Vettel leads Webber as Red Bull dominates FP2

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Sebastian Vettel has returned to the top of the timesheets in Austin after he and teammate Mark Webber forged a Red Bull one-two during the second free practice session for the United States Grand Prix on Friday.

The German driver was pushed by his teammate for the fastest time, but the team appears to be in a class of its own in Austin as Vettel chases an unprecedented eighth consecutive win in a single season.

FP2 began without any problems unlike the session earlier today, and the entire field came out early in order to make up for the time lost this morning due to fog and a problem with the medical helicopter. Lotus set the early pace as Romain Grosjean and stand-in Heikki Kovalainen moved up to P1 and P2, but Sebastian Vettel soon resumed normal service after finishing down in eighteenth place this morning to go fastest by seven-tenths of a second. Mark Webber soon reduced the gap and moved up into second place ahead of the Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, suggesting that the pecking order had not changed a great deal since Abu Dhabi.

With the first runs taking place on the hard tire, the drivers soon switched to the medium compound to gauge their one lap pace for qualifying. Nico Rosberg was the first driver to overhaul Vettel at the top, only for Webber to go faster still ahead of Vettel’s second run. The four-time world champion quickly re-established his dominance though to go fastest once again. Heikki Kovalainen was also impressive, going fifth-fastest, almost two-tenths ahead of Grosjean in the sister Lotus. Esteban Gutierrez continued his good form from FP1 to lie sixth-fastest in front of a large contingency of Mexican fans, whilst Sergio Perez finished down in thirteenth place.

The pecking order did not change for the final half an hour of the session as the teams began to focus on their long runs. However, Max Chilton’s session came to a premature end after spinning out at the final corner, bringing out the yellow flags and forcing a tractor to come and lift away his Marussia. Nico Hulkenberg complained over the radio that the marshals were taking too long to recover the car, but with only a couple of minutes remaining, very running time was lost.

At the front though, Red Bull continued to dominate proceedings with both Vettel and Webber putting in strong displays. With the United States Grand Prix being the only race on the current calendar that Red Bull has not won, the team will be pushing to finish the season in style by righting that wrong this weekend.

Street race in Vietnam could lead Formula One’s Asia expansion

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TOKYO (AP) — Formula One is expected to add more races in Asia, including a street circuit in the capital of Vietnam, a country with little auto racing history that is on the verge of getting a marquee event.

“We think Hanoi could come on in the next couple of years, and we’re working with the Hanoi government to that end,” Sean Bratches, Formula One’s managing director of commercial operations, told the Associated Press.

There is even speculation it could be on the schedule next season, which Bratches rebuffed.

Vietnam would join countries like Azerbaijan, Russia and Bahrain, which have Grand Prix races, little history in the sport, and authoritarian governments with deep pockets that serve F1 as it tries to expand into new markets.

“This (Hanoi) is a street race where we can go downtown, where we can activate a large fan base,” Bratches said. “And you have extraordinary iconography from a television standpoint.”

A second race in China is also likely and would join Shanghai on the F1 calendar. Bratches said deciding where to stage the GP will “be left to local Chinese partners” – Beijing is a strong candidate.

Bratches runs the commercial side of Formula One, which was acquired last year by U.S.-based Liberty Media from long-time operator Bernie Ecclestone.

Formula One’s long-term goal is to have 24-25 races – up from the present 21 – and arrange them in three geographical segments: Asia, Europe and the Americas. Bratches said the Europe-based races would stay in middle of the calendar, with Asia or the Americas opening or ending the season.

He said their positioning had not been decided, and getting this done will be slowed by current contracts that mandate specific places on the calendar for several races. This means eventually that all the races in Asia would be run together, as would races in Europe and the Americas.

The F1 schedule is now an inefficient jumble, allowing Bratches to take a good-natured poke at how the sport was run under Ecclestone.

“We’ve acquired an undermanaged asset that’s 67-years-old, but effectively a start-up,” Bratches said.

Early-season races in Australia and China this year were conducted either side of a trip to Bahrain in the Middle East. Late in the season Formula One returns to Asia with races in Japan and Singapore.

The Canadian GP this season is run in the middle of the European swing, separated by four months from the other races in the Americas – the United States, Mexico and Brazil. These three are followed by the season-ending race in Abu Dhabi, which means another trip across the globe.

“With the right economics, with the right structure and cadence of events across territories, 24 or 25 is probably where we’d like to be from a longer-term standpoint,” Bratches said.

Big changes are not likely to happen until the 2020 season ends. This is when many current rules and contracts expire as F1’s new owners try to redistribute some income to allow smaller teams to compete.

“There’s more interest than we have capacity in the schedule,” Bratches said, firing off Berlin, Paris or London as potentially attractive venues. “We want to be very selective.”

“Those cites from an economic impact standpoint would find us value, as do others around the world,” Bratches added. “It’s very important for us as we move forward to go to locations that are a credit to the Formula One brand.”

An expanded schedule would have to be approved by the teams, which will be stretched by the travel and the wear-and-tear on their crews. The burden will fall on the smaller teams, which have significantly smaller revenue compared with Ferrari, Mercedes or Red Bull.

Bratches also envisions another race in the U.S., joining the United States Grand Prix held annually in Austin, Texas. A street race in Miami is a strong candidate, as are possible venues like Las Vegas or New York.

“We see the United States and China as countries that could support two races,” he said.

Liberty Media has reported Formula One’s total annual revenue at $1.8 billion, generated by fees paid by promoters, broadcast rights, advertising and sponsorship. Race promotion fees also tend to be higher in Asia, which makes the area attractive – along with a largely untapped fan base.

In a four-year cycle, F1 generates more revenue than FIFA or the International Olympic Committee, which rely almost entirely on one-time showcase events.

Reports suggest Vietnamese promoters may pay between $50-60 million annually as a race fee, with those fees paid by the government. Bratches said 19 of 21 Formula One races are supported by government payments.

“The race promotion fee being derived from the government … is a model that has worked historically,” Bratches said.