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Wolff: Mercedes stronger for 2016 challenges, hungry for more success in ’17

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Mercedes Formula 1 chief Toto Wolff believes that the team has emerged stronger for the challenges it faced through the 2016 season, but remains hungry for more success next year.

Mercedes swept to a third straight championship double in 2016, with Nico Rosberg claiming his maiden drivers’ title ahead of teammate Lewis Hamilton.

The pair shared 19 race wins, marking a new record for a team in one season, and started on pole for all but one race.

Rosberg announced five days after winning the championship that he would be retiring from racing with immediate effect, leaving Mercedes with the task of finding a replacement ahead of the 2017 campaign.

Following a challenging season, Wolff sent a Christmas message to the entire Mercedes workforce reflecting on the campaign and looking ahead to next year.

Here is the message in full:

2016 has been a remarkable year. Our team has broken records in the history books; we have pursued our goals with passion and determination; and we were tested at each turn by unexpected challenges.

Nico was crowned champion and then departed the stage. Lewis needed strength of character to handle defeat with composure and dignity. We celebrated our success and we learned from our mistakes. Through all these moments, we have emerged stronger and more capable to face together the road ahead.

Our position in the spotlight puts every decision taken and every word spoken under an intense microscope. They are debated passionately among our fans and interpreted by the media.

But there has been enough talking, now. This is the period for calm and considered reflection; to savor our achievements and prepare for the next campaign.

As we move forward, we will continue to be guided above all by the best interest of our team. This philosophy is bigger than any one season or any one person.

It has forged a group that is humble in victory and gracious in defeat; hungry for challenge and resilient under pressure; never satisfied with the status quo, always seeking to improve.

Our values have been the foundation stones of three world championships. And there will be no compromise as we begin our quest for a fourth in 2017.

It is now time for some days away from the world of racing, to be enjoyed among family and friends. To recharge the batteries for the bigger challenges ahead.

We will tackle new rules, welcome a new race driver and take on even stronger rivals. It will test our team’s character, strength and capability. Bring it on!

With my best wishes to you all for a very happy Christmas,

Toto.

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.