Rosberg on top in first practice for German GP

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Nico Rosberg has finished fastest in the first free practice session for this weekend’s German Grand Prix at Hockenheim.

The Mercedes driver headed up a Silver Arrows one-two with Lewis Hamilton in second place, finishing less than one-tenth of a second behind his teammate.

Rosberg has firmly set his sights on winning this weekend’s race at Hockenheim as he looks to cap off a perfect week. Since the last race at Silverstone, he has got married, seen his home nation win the FIFA World Cup and also signed a new long-term contract with Mercedes.

He began his assault on the race weekend in good fashion during FP1, although Hamilton’s pace was very impressive too. As the two drivers resume battle for the lead of the drivers’ championship, the pressure is well and truly on.

Fernando Alonso came home in a solid third for Ferrari, some three-tenths adrift of Rosberg at the front, whilst Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel finished in fourth and sixth place. Jenson Button was the meat in the Red Bull sandwich in fifth as McLaren teammate Kevin Magnussen finished seventh ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen. The Finn had an issue on his car at the beginning of the session that forced him to sit in the pits for some time, but the team soon resolved it and he managed to put in 21 laps.

The session saw Susie Wolff return to the wheel of the Williams FW36 for the first time since her ill-fated practice at Silverstone. At first, lightning appeared set to strike twice when her car began to slow on her out lap. It was soon diagnosed as a gearbox issue, forcing her to stay in first gear, but she did manage to crawl back to the pits and have the car repaired.

Once Wolff got back out on track, she put in a very respectable display, finishing 15th and just two-tenths of a second off the time of full-time Williams driver Felipe Massa.

Giedo van der Garde was the only other reserve driver to take part in the session, stepping in for Esteban Gutierrez at Sauber. He finished in 16th place, whilst Adrian Sutil finished 10th in the sister C33.

For the time being though, the spoils lie with Rosberg. Be sure to join us at 8am ET for the second practice session, available via Live Extra and online by clicking here.

If you can’t join us then, you can watch the encore on NBCSN at 2:30pm ET. For more information on our F1 broadcasting options this weekend, click here.

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.