Andretti drivers say GP of Long Beach should stay with IndyCar

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With Formula One’s bid to bring a second American-based Grand Prix to the New York/New Jersey region floundering, the series is now coveting a return to the streets of Long Beach, California, where it raced in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

The latest story in that saga emerged recently as the Long Beach City Council proposed a three-year extension of its contract with the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, which should keep the IndyCars racing by the Pacific Ocean through 2018.

However, at the end of that extension, the event would be opened up for bidding, which could give F1 a way back to Southern California.

The event has been an American open-wheel racing staple since 1984 – and the Andretti Autosport drivers believe it needs to stay that way.

Marco Andretti – whose father, Michael, and grandfather, Mario, combined for six Long Beach wins in their driving careers – scoffed at the idea (“They were supposed to go to Jersey, too,” he noted) while James Hinchcliffe said the money needed for upgrades and sanctioning fees would “further bankrupt California.”

And former Long Beach winner and Verizon IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay felt like the event was on its way to returning to its past splendor, when the likes of the Andrettis, Al Unser Jr., and other superstars dueled through the streets.

“It’s an IndyCar race. It needs to be,” said Hunter-Reay. “That’s where the glory days were, and we’re heading back there. The crowds are ‑‑ on Friday, this race is the best I think I’ve ever seen. Just getting here, we couldn’t find a way through the crowd on a Friday.”

Much has been made about the costs of a possible F1 event at Long Beach and whether or not they would be worth it for the city. But the Grand Prix’s founder, Chris Pook, now a critical part of F1’s attempt to return to the Beach, has said that those costs would be far less than what some are expecting.

“People have been saying it would cost $100 million,” he said in March to the Orange County (Calif.) Register. “That number has just stuck in people’s minds. It’s not even close to that.”

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.