Hamilton quickest in first practice for Bahrain GP

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Lewis Hamilton has finished fastest in the first practice session ahead of this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix as Mercedes once again dominated proceedings on Friday afternoon in Sakhir.

The British driver, who is coming off the back of winning in Malaysia last weekend, posted a fastest time of 1:37.502 to finish two-tenths ahead of teammate Nico Rosberg as Fernando Alonso and Nico Hulkenberg were the only drivers to finish within half a second of the Silver Arrows.

Following a noisy GP2 practice on Friday morning, free practice got underway in a somewhat quieter fashion as the drivers kicked off the tenth Bahrain GP race weekend. Most came out early for an installation lap, but Rosberg’s session got off to a bad start as he suffered a loss of power on his car, forcing him to crawl back to the pits. The Mercedes team quickly got to work to fix the problem, and he was soon sent him back on his way.

Robin Frijns and Giedo van der Garde were two of the first drivers to post a time as both enjoyed some running in the session as part of their duties as test drivers for Caterham and Sauber respectively. Similarly, Felipe Nasr stepped in at Williams for Valtteri Bottas, and quickly moved to the top of the timesheets. He was soon displaced once the full-time drivers came out on track, and Daniil Kvyat was the first to lay down a serious benchmark ahead of Sergio Perez and Jenson Button. Predictably, Mercedes hit back as Rosberg moved ahead of Kvyat for P1, and he was soon followed by teammate Lewis Hamilton who went fastest by one-tenth of a second. Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg popped up into third place with a solid lap time, just two-tenths shy of Hamilton’s

With the excessive heat posing a number of problems in Bahrain, many opted to sit in the pits and limit their running. The race will start at 6pm local time on Sunday, meaning that conditions will be far cooler than in practice.

In a rather bizarre moment, Ferrari was forced to send its mechanics down the pit lane to retrieve Fernando Alonso after he was found to have an odd tire on his car. The team should avoid a penalty as the Spaniard had not joined the track.

With 15 minutes to go, Alonso fitted a set of the quicker medium tires and went fastest of all for Ferrari (with all four tires the same this time around). Hulkenberg improved his time to move up into second place, and these times finally stirred the Mercedes drivers from their garages. Rosberg soon re-established his dominance to move two-tenths of a second clear of Alonso, before Hamilton put another two-tenths over his teammate with seven minutes to go.

Ultimately, this time proved to be unbeatable, handing Mercedes yet another one-two at the top of the timesheets.

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.