Alonso: Mercedes could win every race in 2014

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Fernando Alonso believes that Mercedes could win every single race of the 2014 Formula 1 season, and appears to have written off his own title chances after just four races.

Mercedes has made a remarkable start to the season, winning all of the first four races and claiming three one-two finishes in this time. In fact, before this afternoon’s Spanish Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have claimed 154 of 182 possible points this year.

A lengthy lead-up for the W05 Hybrid car and plenty of work during the off-season has given Mercedes a clear advantage over the rest of the field. Alonso – who has won the world championship twice – believes that this is such that the team could complete a clean sweep in 2014.

“They should be in a position to win all the races probably, so it is going to be tight between them,” he explained to the BBC in Spain yesterday. “Probably the championship will be decided by who finishes most races between them.

“I think the mechanical side and luck will be a factor because we saw Lewis is doing some extra from Nico in these first four races, but he is second in the championship because he didn’t finish one race. That will be the key of the championship for them.”

Mercedes may enjoy a pace advantage of at least half a second per lap over the rest of the field, but a perfect season would be extraordinary. McLaren came close to achieving this in 1988 when the all-conquering MP4/4 car won 15 out of 16 races in the hands of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, with the only blot on the team’s scoresheet coming at Monza when both drivers were involved in accidents.

Alonso will start today’s Spanish Grand Prix from seventh place on the grid, and he believes that there is still a lot of room for improvement with the F14 T car.

There is a definite improvement compared to China, but we have some problems with the rear, despite the many set-up changes we made,” he said. “Kimi did very well and I hope that both Ferraris can finish higher up.

“Now we must find the best strategy for tomorrow and try to get a good start. But above all, we mustn’t make any mistakes, because this race demands a high level of concentration.”

You can watch the Spanish Grand Prix live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7:30am ET today.

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.