Wolff finally completes practice run despite early scare

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Susie Wolff finally completed a full practice session for Williams at Hockenheim today, but it wasn’t without an early scare that threatened to sideline her for the second race in a row.

During practice for the British Grand Prix, Wolff became the first woman in 22 years to take part in an official grand prix weekend session, but her bow lasted just 20 minutes after an engine failure on her car.

She had one final shot during practice today at Hockenheim, and lightning looked set to strike twice when her FW36 car began to slow as she exited the pits. The car was stuck in first gear, forcing her to crawl back at a pedestrian pace.

“That was a tough moment because it was immediately clear when I left the pit lane that there was a problem with the drive, and then I lost it completely at the hairpin,” she explained to reporters. “I stayed quite calm because at the end of the day, you’ve just got to get through it. These things are out of your control.

“In that moment, out on track, I said ‘no no no no no, it’s not going to finish like this’. I had such a good feeling for today. I think when you have that optimism and that belief that this is not the end, you just somehow know it’s going to work, and maybe I would be saying a different story now if I had stopped out on track but the truth is we got back to the pits and that was the most important thing.”

Wolff did manage to get her ailing car back to the pits, and Williams soon fixed the problem, allowing her to go out and complete a full run. She finished 15th on the timesheets, just two-tenths of a second shy of full-time Williams driver Felipe Massa. Wolff was delighted with the performance and the work undertaken.

“Yes, I’m happy with my performance today,” she said. “My main target result was always going to be Felipe, and the team set out a programme. It was important to do a good job today because obviously with the change in the setup, taking the FRIC out, it was important to then get as much information for the team as possible.

“So I knew exactly what I had to do and I knew it was my only chance then to show what I was capable of out there, but I had a really good feeling because I was well prepared for it. I know the track very well from my DTM times, and I was just looking forward to driving the car because it’s so much fun to be out there driving.”

As for a next run? Wolff is unsure, and could not comment on when Williams would next give her a chance to test the car when asked about it by NBC Sports.

“That’s the million dollar question, the next one…” she pondered. “That’s the difficulty because as soon as you come into the pit lane and finish the session, the next question is ‘okay, when do you get back in the car?'”

“That’s one of the toughest things in Formula 1: getting more opportunities. The team are happy with my performance, so that was an important step in the right direction, and now I have to see what else is possible.

“It’ll be difficult this season to get any more time in the car, that’s clear, but that’s next on my to do list.”

Wolff certainly held her own today during practice, and it will be interesting to see just how her fledgling F1 career develops from here. Nevertheless, she should be proud of her achievements over the past three weeks and of her result during practice in Germany 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.