Time is ticking for Jean-Eric Vergne at Toro Rosso

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He may have had more than his fair share of bad luck so far this season, but time does appear to be ticking for Jean-Eric Vergne at Toro Rosso, and perhaps even on his F1 career.

Being a member of the Red Bull junior programme has its perks and drawbacks. The obvious benefit is the backing from one of motorsport’s biggest brands, with Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo being its two biggest stars. However, they have also set a dangerous precedent: this is the kind of quality that the team is looking for.

When Mark Webber confirmed at Silverstone last year he would be retiring, a race between Ricciardo, Vergne and Kimi Raikkonen was sparked for his seat. The Australian driver eventually won out, rising to the occasion and performing when it mattered. Vergne, on the other hand, failed to score in the final eleven races of the year.

So far this season, Vergne has two eighth place finishes to his name and eight points, but he could be right to feel short changed given that five of his races have ended in retirement. The Toro Rosso car has certainly improved since the beginning of the season, yet its pace is still hindered by the dud Renault engine in the back.

For Vergne, the pressure comes from below. Should he see out the end of the season, he will have started more races than any other driver for Toro Rosso, but history suggests it may not go far beyond that. Traditionally, Red Bull has jilted ‘under-performing’ drivers from the team in favor of other juniors. Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari were both hard done by, but they simply had not done enough and were sacked at the end of 2011. Vergne is already coming under pressure from the next batch of Red Bull juniors.

Carlos Sainz Jr. (son of his rally legend namesake) is the next junior in line for a seat, it would appear. He is currently leading the Formula Renault 3.5 championship, and all of the signs suggest that he will go on to win it. If anyone is going to get a seat at Toro Rosso, it would probably be him.

Then again, the same thing was said about Antonio Felix da Costa last season, only for the Toro Rosso seat to go to Daniil Kvyat. da Costa’s career appears to have hit something of a dead end, and he is now racing in the German DTM championship.

The outsider for Vergne’s seat would be Britain’s Alex Lynn. The youngster received Red Bull backing at the beginning of the season, and he is already proving his worth in GP3, leading the championship after four races.

For now though, Sainz must be the favorite. If he can follow in Kevin Magnussen’s footsteps to win the Formula Renault 3.5 title, it would surely be curtains for Vergne. Bad luck aside, a change has to come for the Frenchman to keep his F1 career alive.

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.