Vettel feeling upbeat ahead of British Grand Prix

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Sebastian Vettel may have endured a difficult start to the 2014 Formula 1 season, but the German driver is still feeling positive heading to next weekend’s British Grand Prix.

Silverstone has proven to be a happy hunting ground for Red Bull over the past five years, with its drivers winning the race three times. The event is also an important one for the team given that the track is not far from its factory in Milton Keynes.

“I always like going to Silverstone, the track is incredible to drive and the British crowd that turns out to watch the weekend is always massive,” Vettel said in the team’s grand prix preview. “Whether it’s wet or dry everyone always looks like they are having a really good time.”

The race will be the second of three ‘home’ rounds for the team. Last weekend’s race in Austria was the team’s official home race, given that owner Dietrich Mateschitz is Austrian, and the race after Silverstone – the German Grand Prix – is Vettel’s.

“It’s a busy time right now, we had Red Bull’s home race in Austria, the Team’s local event here and then we go to my home race in Germany!” he said. “This race has an extra element as it’s so close to the factory and a lot of the staff who work so hard on the car will be watching from the grandstands with their families – I hope we can get a good result for them.

“As the factory is only about half an hour or so from the track a lot of the race team live nearby and can sleep in their own beds for the weekend which surely is a nice thing for them.

“I have good memories of Silverstone, the best must be winning there in 2009 and Mark [Webber] won there in 2010 and 2012 so we have a good record at the track.”

Vettel’s poor title defence only continued in Austria as he retired when a lap down on the field. For the rest of 2014, a return to the top step of the podium must be the aim for the German driver, but it may take a huge slice of luck for him to follow in teammate Daniel Ricciardo’s footsteps.

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.