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F1 calendar set to swell beyond 21 races in coming years

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The Formula 1 calendar looks poised to swell beyond 21 races in the next few years as the sport’s new owner, Liberty Media, goes “on the offensive” to create events in new markets.

Liberty completed its takeover of F1 in January, ending previous ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone’s 40-year reign and replacing him with American businessman Chase Carey in the role of CEO and chairman.

Carey quickly appointed Sean Bratches into a chief commercial role for F1, with Liberty keen on widening the sport’s reach and reception across the globe.

As part of this, an expanded calendar has been expected to follow in the coming years. The 2017 schedule stands at 20 races, while 21 events are set for 2021 after the addition of France and Germany and the loss of Malaysia.

Speaking to Reuters, Bratches openly stated that Liberty will not be capping the calendar at 21 races, instead looking for more events beyond that number as part of an aggressive drive to expand F1.

“We want to work in partnership with our teams in terms of determining where we go, but our view is that we’d like to go above 21,” Bratches said.

“And we want to be a little bit more proactive and go on the offensive in terms of the markets where we go. As we start identifying an optimal calendar in optimal regions, we can go down and sit with cities and make our case as opposed to what has been a little bit more reactive to bids coming in.”

Bratches said that Liberty would be working to prevent clashes between F1 races and big sporting events, citing an example next year when one weekend in July will see both the FIFA World Cup final and the finals’ day at Wimbledon take place.

“We are very interested in doing what’s best for fans,” Bratches said. “Next year there is a weekend where the Wimbledon final and World Cup final take place on the same day. It would be sub-optimal to have the British Grand Prix on that day.

“It’s a tight schedule.”

Bratches did, however, say that the current summer break and enforced team shut down through August would remain, believing it to be necessary for the traveling paddock to get some respite.

“We’re trying to be respectful to everyone in F1, including journalists, to ensure everyone has an appropriate break with their families and some downtime,” Bratches said.

Ferrari teammates Vettel and Raikkonen fastest in rainy final practice at Australian GP

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen went one-two in the final practice session ahead of qualifying at the water-logged Australian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Vettel set a best-lap time of 1 minute, 26.067 seconds, more than 2.4 seconds faster than his teammate in second.

Both Ferrari drivers switched from their intermediate tires to the super-fast, ultra-soft tires for the final few laps of the session, testing conditions on the track after a day-long downpour left it slick and filled with small puddles.

Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton did not opt to try out their soft tires, sticking to the intermediates for the entire session. They had the seventh- and eighth-fastest times, after topping the leaderboard in practice in dry conditions on Friday.

The heavy rains subsided by early afternoon, allowing the track to rapidly dry during the third practice session and making conditions safe for drivers to test their soft tires.

Still, only a few drivers completed a timed lap with the softer compounds, with Mercedes, Red Bull and most of the others staying with their intermediates.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson had the third-fastest time of the session on ultrasoft tires, followed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on intermediates.

Hamilton remains the favorite to capture his fifth straight pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in qualifying later Saturday. He had the fastest laps on ultrasoft tires in the two practice sessions on Friday, though Verstappen was right behind him.

Verstappen and Vettel both slid on the slick track early in the third practice session, but maintained control and completed their runs without incident.

Verstappen’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, had the sixth-fastest time of the session. The Australian’s chances of winning his fifth career Grand Prix on his home track in Melbourne took a hit late Friday when he was assessed a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

The Australian driver was penalized for driving too fast under red-flag conditions during Friday’s second practice session because of debris on the track.