F1 great Niki Lauda fumes over magazine’s satire of Michael Schumacher’s condition

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If it was going for laughs, a German satire magazine has failed miserably, drawing the ire of both three-time Formula One champion Niki Lauda and fans of seriously injured seven-time F1 champ Michael Schumacher.

The latest edition of Germany’s Titanic magazine – comparable to The Onion in the U.S. – came out earlier this week with a photo of Lauda on the cover and the headline “‘Exclusive – First Photo After The Accident – This is how badly it affected Schumi”, referring to Schumacher, who was nearly killed in a skiing accident in the French Alps on Dec. 29.

In pursuit of a second consecutive F1 championship at the time, Lauda suffered serious burns and permanent disfigurement after being burned in a crash in 1976 at Nürburgring. That crash was a key component of last summer’s movie “Rush.” The Titanic cover pictured Lauda as he looks today, nearly 40 years after his own near-fatal mishap.

“The cover is totally audacious, absolutely intolerable and completely irreverent. Who prints such nonsense?” Lauda said of his disgust at the Titanic cover to the newspaper Heute in his native Austria.

In the same edition, Titanic also published a “guide” for parents to explain Schumacher’s accident and injuries to their children “with fun and games,” and also contains a puzzle with Schumacher in a helmet and a labyrinth where taking the wrong turn down a mountain will put the player in a hospital.

Schumacher remains in a medically induced coma, although doctors last week began slowly weaning him of the anesthetic that has kept him in the coma.

When told of Lauda’s criticism of the magazine cover, Tim Wolff, editor of Titanic, responded by saying, “The criticism of Mr. Lauda concerns us.”

But instead of leaving well enough alone, Titanic pushed the envelope even further, drawing even greater criticism and rebuke when it subsequently published an “apology” about the magazine cover and its contents.

“We understand the concern but we want to assure our fans that we sent an investigative reporter dressed as a nurse into the clinic in Grenoble,” read a press release containing the so-called apology. “If we have made a tragic mix up with another prominent F1 driver that may have been involved in a crash – then we regret it, at least a little bit!”

Lauda still isn’t laughing. He’s reportedly considering legal action against the magazine, according to the Austrian Independent.

“It is an absolute barefaced cheek and is completely impious,” Lauda said. “I ask myself, ‘Who would print such a load of rubbish?'”

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.