Sauber anonymous once again, but Sutil does finish

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A quick pop quiz to begin this article. Without looking, tell me where Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez finished during yesterday’s Spanish Grand Prix.

Any idea? I doubt it. Once again, both drivers were pretty anonymous for the entire race, and the team is now just one of three stuck on zero points.

By the way, the answer to that question is 16th and 17th place, with Gutierrez ahead of Sutil.

In fact, Gutierrez didn’t have a bad start. Thanks to Sebastian Vettel’s grid penalty, he started up in 13th place, and managed to stay there for a little while. Eventually, Vettel, Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen all managed to find a way past, and it went downhill from there for the Mexican.

“Obviously, we cannot be happy with this result,” Gutierrez said. “It is not where we want to be. It was a good start, and I managed to gain some positions. After that I just kept dropping back. During the race it was very challenging to keep the tires alive and to have good speed on the straights.

“Nevertheless, we should not lose our motivation. We have the test this week and we need to have the right programme to get things sorted out.”

Adrian Sutil did meet his own target of seeing the checkered flag in Spain, but given that he finished only ahead of the Marussia and Caterham drivers, he has little else to smile about.

“The race was not very exciting for me,” he said. “Unfortunately, the performance of my car was not good and I was struggling with the grip.

“It was a disappointing race for me. We still have a huge problem with the grip level, especially while turning into the corners. We still have to work on this. Now we have to look forward and do better during the upcoming races.”

Given that Simona de Silvestro, Giedo van der Garde and Sergey Sirotkin have all set their sights on a seat with Sauber next season, such a disastrous start to the season is the last thing that either Gutierrez or Sutil would have wanted. The car had undergone some weight loss for the race, but it appeared to have little effect.

Attention will now turn to Monaco in two weeks’ time, but it might take something out of the ordinary for Sauber to score any points at F1’s glamor event.

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.