Hulkenberg: 2014 start has “probably gone better than we were expecting”

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A solid start to the 2014 Formula One World Championship has Sahara Force India heading toward surpassing its overall points total from last year.

In 2013, Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil netted 77 points and a sixth-place result in the Constructors’ Championship for the Silverstone squad.

But in just four races in 2014, Force India’s new pairing of Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez have already bagged 54 points and the team’s currently third in the Constructors’ – and smack in the middle of a tight battle between themselves, Red Bull, Ferrari, and McLaren for “best of the rest” status behind Mercedes.

Perez has the team’s lone podium of the year at Bahrain, but Hulkenberg’s been the more consistent of the duo. He’s one of just four competitors to score points in every race with results of sixth, fifth, fifth, and sixth to his credit.

Going into this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix (Sun., 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra), Hulkenberg indicated that he and his team’s consistent run to open the calendar may have been more than he’d initially hoped for.

“I’ve enjoyed the first part of the year,” he said. “It’s probably gone better than we were expecting after winter testing and it’s good to keep picking up the points.

“I’m fourth [in the Drivers’ Championship] with 36 points and I think that’s a big achievement. The car has worked well everywhere and we’ve made the most of the opportunities. Consistency is surely one of our strengths at the moment.”

But the development beat always goes on in Formula One, and Hulkenberg knows that his team can not let up on that front as the European rounds get underway.

“We’re up in third in the [Constructors’] championship and we want to stay there,” he said. “The hard work over the winter is paying off, but we know that Formula One is always a development race and things can change from one weekend to the next. So we need to keep working hard to maintain our good position.”

As for his boss, Vijay Mallya, he is “optimistic” that the consistency from his team will continue.

“China has never been an especially strong track for us, so to come away with ten points was a very good effort,” he said. “We also expect our car to perform better in warmer conditions and there are some upcoming races that will play more to our strengths.”

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.