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Gianmaria Bruni’s switch to Porsche made official

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Gianmaria Bruni’s future has formally been settled, with Porsche confirming Sunday the Italian will join the manufacturer after his past run at Ferrari starting in June.

The move settles months of speculation about the end of his time with Ferrari, where he’s achieved a wealth of success in the last decade in GT racing with Risi Competizione and AF Corse.

He’ll test in June and begin racing in July for the Porsche GT Team in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, and both the timing and placement of his new role is intriguing.

There was no official comment from Bruni in the release, only one from Head of Porsche Motorsport, Dr. Frank-Steffen Walliser.

“We’re delighted to welcome Gianmaria Bruni, one of the world’s top GT pilots, into our squad,” Walliser said. “He fits perfectly into our strong circle of works drivers and will join us for the second half of the season.”

So about the placement. Here’s where Porsche factory drivers have already been assigned this year:

LMP1 – 919 Hybrid #1

Neel Jani (32), Switzerland
André Lotterer (35), Germany
Nick Tandy (32), Great Britain

LMP1 – 919 Hybrid #2

Earl Bamber (26), New Zealand
Timo Bernhard (35), Germany
Brendon Hartley (27), New Zealand

GT works drivers

Jörg Bergmeister (40), Germany
Michael Christensen (26), Denmark
Romain Dumas (38), France
Kévin Estre (28), France
Wolf Henzler (41), Germany
Richard Lietz (32), Austria
Frédéric Makowiecki (36), France
Sven Müller (24), Germany
Patrick Pilet (35), France
Patrick Long (35), USA
Laurens Vanthoor (25), Belgium
Dirk Werner (35), Germany

Of the GT drivers, Pilet and Werner (No. 911) and Estre and Vanthoor (No. 912) had been assigned to the season-long GT Le Mans class Porsche 911 RSR entries. As Bruni is set to replace one of the four, it’s worth noting Pilet is the only holdover from last year with the other three having raced either in different series (Estre) or for different manufacturers (Werner with BMW, Vanthoor with Audi) last year. Makowiecki (No. 911) and Lietz (No. 912) were announced as the respective third drivers at endurance races.

In the FIA World Endurance Championship, Makowiecki, Lietz and Christensen are three of the four full-season drivers for those pair of 911s in GTE-Pro. With Bergmeister and Henzler having full-time GT Daytona seats in IMSA and with Long being full-time in Pirelli World Challenge, it would seem to leave at least one of the other as-yet-unassigned works drivers – Dumas or Müller – in the catbird’s seat for the fourth WEC seat. However, Bruni’s IMSA arrival could see one of the IMSA drivers move to the WEC. Time will tell.

Bruni, as it is, won’t be able to race for Porsche until after Le Mans.

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.