Ricciardo pounces to win at Spa as Rosberg and Hamilton come to blows

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SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, BELGIUM – Daniel Ricciardo has claimed victory in today’s Belgian Grand Prix after capitalizing on a clash between Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in the early stages of the race.

The two championship rivals touched on the second lap, leaving Hamilton with a puncture that ultimately forced him to retire from the race. Rosberg tried to catch Ricciardo, but could not deny the Australian driver from claiming his third win of the season at a track which Red Bull expected to struggle.

The start saw Hamilton seize the lead from Rosberg after making a great getaway from second place on the grid, but the Briton was soon coming under pressure from Sebastian Vettel in the Red Bull. The defending world champion tried to pass him around the outside at Les Combes, only to run wide and allow Rosberg back up into second place.

As the German driver closed on Hamilton, the race leader defended from him heading along the Kemmel Straight, only for the Mercedes teammates to touch. Rosberg’s front wing popped Hamilton’s left-rear tire, leaving the Briton with a puncture and costing the championship leader his endplate. He did manage to take the lead, though, but Hamilton’s race was already looking bleak as he pitted for repairs. He emerged down in 19th place and with a lot of work to do.

Meanwhile, Daniel Ricciardo had passed both Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel to rise to second position behind Rosberg, and was soon applying pressure to the German driver.

Rosberg soon had to pit for repairs and a fresh set of tires, but his race took a strange turn when a piece of debris got caught on the front aerial of his car. It was soon removed, and he set about recovering the positions he had lost.

Bottas was now on a charge, passing Alonso to move up into third for Williams. The Finn moved into the lead of the race when both of the Red Bull drivers pitted from the top two positions. An early stop for Kimi Raikkonen allowed him to move up into second place behind Ricciardo once all of the front-runners had made their first pit stop.

Vettel came under pressure for third place from Rosberg and Bottas, with the Mercedes driver taking the harder tire on at his pit stop. However, Rosberg could not find a way past Vettel, and eventually lost a position to Bottas after locking up under braking at the final corner.

In order to avoid losing time behind the duelling duo, Rosberg took to the pits a couple of laps after his teammate. However, with Hamilton down in P17, the Briton’s hopes of cutting the gap at the top of the drivers’ standings looked slim.

Vettel moved back up to second place for Red Bull when Kimi Raikkonen took to the pits for the second time. In the sister Ferrari, Fernando Alonso was having less luck, losing out to McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen for fifth place before dropping behind Rosberg. The Mercedes driver was now ahead of Vettel after both had made their second stop.

Rosberg continued to rally, moving up into the top three behind Ricciardo and Bottas, who were both yet to make their second stop. The German was given the call to push in order to force his rivals into pitting, but when Ricciardo did pit, he emerged ahead of Rosberg on track. With fresher tires, the advantage lay with the Australian with 16 laps to go at Spa, and he re-took the lead when Bottas pitted, coming back out in sixth place.

The Finn soon looked to recover the positions he had lost, doing what Rosberg couldn’t by passing Vettel around the outside of Les Combes. When Rosberg pitted for a third time, he entered battle with Bottas, and was unable to keep him back heading down the Kemmel straight. With fresher tires though, the German was soon able to get back ahead of Bottas before passing Raikkonen to move into second place once again. This left the two Finns to scrap over the final podium position, with Bottas eventually winning out thanks to his fresher set of tires.

With five laps remaining, a frustrated Lewis Hamilton pitted from sixteenth position to retire from the Belgian Grand Prix. After coming into this weekend with so much hope and belief, this DNF will come as a bitter blow to the Briton’s title hopes.

Mercedes told its sole remaining driver, Rosberg, to put the hammer down with seven laps to go, and he responded by posting the fastest lap of the race. He continued to carve into Ricciardo’s lead at a rate of over two seconds per lap, setting the stage for a close finish at Spa.

However, it simply wasn’t enough. After seeing the Mercedes drivers falter, Daniel Ricciardo was once again the man to pick up the pieces. He crossed the line with an advantage of 3.3 seconds at the flag to secure his third win of the season.

Bottas completed the podium for Williams ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, who secured his best result of the year at his favorite circuit. Sebastian Vettel finished fifth for Red Bull ahead of the McLaren duo of Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button, with Fernando Alonso settling for P8 in the end. Sergio Perez and Daniil Kvyat completed the points.

As Mercedes’ title fight boiled over, Ricciardo once again made the most of it. His victory sees him strengthen his grip on third place in the drivers’ standings ahead of Alonso and Bottas.

At the very top, it is Rosberg who will be the happiest man with a 29-point lead, even if he has some tough questions to answer this evening at Mercedes.

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.