Alonso: We’re ready to fight back in China

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Fernando Alonso has said that Ferrari is ready to fight back this weekend at the Chinese Grand Prix after a tough start to the season.

The team has failed to record a podium finish so far in 2014, and in Bahrain its drivers picked up just three points (the exact same number of titles that Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen have between them). With the championships already slipping away and a sixth straight season without a crown on the cards, team principal Stefano Domenicali fell on his sword and resigned earlier this week.

After such a difficult week, Alonso is ready to fight back at a circuit where he has won twice before.

“We’re here to try to improve the situation a little bit, be a little bit more competitive, more than we have shown in the first three races,” the Spaniard explained in the press conference on Thursday in Shanghai. “We’re here to fight back.

“I think we need to be honest with our situation. It’s not where we wanted to be. I think there is a lot of room to improve. We need to become better in all the areas from the car.”

Alonso is banking on the team gradually improving across the course of the season before launching an assault on pace-setters Mercedes in the second half of the year.

“There is a long way to go,” he said. “The championship is very long and we know that probably in the first [part] of the championship we will not be as competitive as Mercedes or some of the teams that now they are on top.

“But as I said we need to maximize what we have in our hands now, try to score as many points as possible and hopefully we can be very competitive later in the season.”

Domenicali’s position has been taken by Ferrari’s former North America CEO Matteo Mattiacci, but president Luca di Montezemolo will also be playing a bigger part in the F1 division of the Italian marque.

Once again, problems with the Ferrari car appear to have ended Alonso’s hopes of a third world title after just a handful of races. However, his never-say-die attitude and enormous ability means that we can’t truly rule him out of the running until we’re well into the 2014 season.

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.