Ricciardo fastest in rain-affected final practice in China

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Daniel Ricciardo has finished fastest in a rain-affected final practice session for the Chinese Grand Prix today that saw most of the front-runners choose to spend most of their time in the pits.

The Red Bull driver posted a fastest time of 1:53.958 on Saturday morning at the Shanghai International Circuit to finish ahead of Felipe Massa and Romain Grosjean, but few drivers made a serious effort to finish on top of the timesheets.

Rainfall overnight meant that the track was wet for the beginning of FP3 on Saturday morning, prompting the teams to head out on the intermediate tire at the beginning of the session. Some oil on the track from a supercar race also complicated matters, and most opted to sit out the first part of the session. The Lotus drivers were the first to venture out for a serious run with Romain Grosjean winning the inter-team battle with his initial lap time, and his effort remained the benchmark for the first half of the session.

In a bid to beat Grosjean, Valtteri Bottas spun his Williams as the British team once again lamented the wet conditions that have hindered its qualifying form for much of the season. Jules Bianchi and Marcus Ericsson also struggled to keep their cars on track, but Daniel Ricciardo – after first taking a quick selfie – managed to finally topple Grosjean’s time to go fastest of all on the intermediate tire.

After encountering rear suspension trouble on Lewis Hamilton’s car yesterday, Mercedes’ concerns now lay with the #44 car of Nico Rosberg as the mechanics worked on his brakes throughout the session. Compatriot Sebastian Vettel was also left on the sidelines for a small part of the session because of a minor fire on one of his brake ducts, but he eventually got back out in order to assess the conditions further.

With 20 minutes to go, Pastor Maldonado’s session came to an early end once again due to a problem on his Lotus E22 car that forced him to pull over on the side of the back straight. A lot of teams opted to curtail their running early in order to avoid a crash in the slippery conditions that could potentially sideline a car for qualifying later today.

Ultimately, Ricciardo’s lap time was good enough to secure him P1, but it is unlikely that the results from this session will bear any resemblance to the starting grid in China.

You can watch qualifying live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 2am ET. Click here to tune in via live stream.

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.