Jerez Day 1 leader Raikkonen: “Lap times don’t mean anything”

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Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen may have topped the charts in the opening day of Formula One preseason testing today at Jerez, but the former World Champion indicated that speed is not the top priority for the Scuderia.

The same could be said for the other teams in the paddock as well, considering the massive technical shift that has taken place ahead of the 2014 season.

Raikkonen logged a 1 minute, 27.104-second lap in the Ferrari F14 T, enough to out-hustle another ex-World Champion in Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes (1:27.820) for P1 at the end of the day.

However, as you’d probably expect from Raikkonen, he promptly downplayed that aspect from an opening day that saw only 93 combined laps turned.

“The biggest challenge is just getting all the things working as we want,” he said according to Agence France-Presse. “Everyone wants to see more laps and obviously, we want to do more laps, but it is pretty normal with such a big change. It will take time before we can all go at 100 percent.”

“Lap times don’t mean anything right now. We are just trying to get the car working as well as we can.”

Sure enough, Ferrari noted in the team’s test report that “work centered exclusively on checking the functionality of the F14 T’s on-board systems and some aerodynamic mapping.”

Raikkonen, who is set to test the F14 T again tomorrow before handing it over to Fernando Alonso, wound up logging 31 laps today – a total of 13 more than Hamilton (2nd, 1:27.820) got in before he crashed in Turn 1 after a front wing failure on his team’s new W05. Third-fastest man Valtteri Bottas of Williams (1:30.082) only logged seven circuits in the FW36.

It should also be noted that Raikkonen’s quick time today was more than eight seconds slower than Jenson Button’s chart-topping time in the first day of Jerez testing last year, a lap of 1 minute, 18.861 seconds.

But as Raikkonen said, reliability is the most important thing for everybody right now.

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.