Feedback for Pirelli 18-inch tires largely positive

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Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery has said that the response to the firm’s test of 18-inch rim F1 tires has been largely positive, and the concept could grace the sport in three years’ time.

Last week at Silverstone, Lotus completed 15 laps using the 18-inch tires fitted to Charles Pic’s E22 car. Although the Frenchman said that they were a challenge to work with, Hembery confirmed that the feedback Pirelli had received was largely positive.

“We felt rather than discuss it, we ought to put some on a current car and people can actually decide and the F1 commission can see real images of the car with that sort of tire on them,” he explained. “These are 18 [inches], maybe 19 is probably more interesting going forward.

“Have to say that the feedback we’ve had generally has been very good. People have been forwarding us all sorts of surveys and fan surveys that they’ve had on their individual websites. Between 70 and 80%, depending on the survey, have been very favorable.”

It is thought that the move to more road relevant tires could attract other suppliers such as Michelin to F1, potentially creating a tire war, last seen in 2006. Hembery did not feel that the sport was going down that route, though.

“Ultimately the sport should primarily be about drivers and then you have engines,” he said. “If you throw in tires as well, you can tend to lose your way.

“We’d be interested if the rules were in the right direction but there hasn’t seemed to be much of an appetite for doing that. It’s another element that’s out of the control of the teams.

“We have enough controversy even when we’re the sole supplier,” he added, reflecting on last year’s tire safety debacle. “So if you add in another supplier you could have another question mark.”

Lotus driver Pastor Maldonado spoke to the media on Thursday about the tires, and gave them his approval.

“Yeah, good look, good look,” he said. “But for sure, talking to Pic, it’s not the best to drive, but even the car has not been designed for this kind of tire. It’s difficult to say, but for sure the look of the car is much better, more aggressive.”

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.