Photo: Mahindra Racing

Felix Rosenqvist captures first Formula E win in Berlin race one

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Mahindra Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist has won in a lot of disciplines and the super, speedy Swede added another win to his resume on Saturday at the Tempelhofring Circuit in Berlin, Germany, his first victory in the FIA Formula E Championship, in what is also the first for the Indian team in the series.

In Round 7 of the 2016/17 championship, this is only the second race points leader Sebastien Buemi has not won. Lucas di Grassi won in Mexico City, Round 4, but otherwise Buemi went five for six prior to today’s race.

Rosenqvist led the opening portion of qualifying before falling to third in the Super Pole session, but quickly got into second off the line behind ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport driver di Grassi, who took pole. Jose Maria Lopez of DS Virgin Racing got a horrendous start from second and slipped back to fourth.

He hounded di Grassi for the first stint of the 44-lap race around the airport circuit before di Grassi gave up the position into the sweeping Turn 1 just before the pit stop to swap cars. Rosenqvist darted around the outside and would thus have the lead going into the pit stop sequence.

The only concern for him from there was whether he’d be able to follow through with the lead after the car exchange, but he did just that, and controlled the pace for the remainder of the race.

Di Grassi was second, 2.232 seconds behind, while Nick Heidfeld completed Mahindra Racing’s banner day with another third place. It’s the German’s third straight third-place finish and fourth overall this season, for the fourth place driver in points heading into the race.

Lopez finished fourth, while Jean-Eric Vergne was fifth on the road before a time penalty assessed that dropped him to ninth, and Buemi took a pivotal fifth to make something of his day, as we’ll note below.

The Swiss driver qualified only 14th but improved to sixth on the road, a gain of eight positions. That became fifth with a five-second time penalty assessed to Techeetah’s Vergne for an unsafe release in his pit stop, and dropped the Frenchman down the order.

All told, di Grassi cut a bit into the 43-point lead Buemi of Renault e.dams had going into the race, but not near as much as he could have with Buemi doing an excellent job of damage limitations.

It was only a net 11-point swing with di Grassi picking up 21 points (18 for second, three for pole) and Buemi 10 (for fifth), and so Buemi holds a 32-point lead going into Sunday’s action. Theoretically, with di Grassi on pole and Buemi only 14th on the grid, the Brazilian had a chance to score a maximum 25 points for the race win and cut the lead to the teens, but it didn’t happen.

Beyond the top five, Nico Prost was sixth in the second Renault ahead of Sam Bird, Daniel Abt, Vergne and Maro Engel.

Elsewhere, Stephane Sarrazin was 13th in his first drive for Techeetah, neither Faraday Future Dragon Racing car made the points, and neither did either MS Amlin Andretti car, which ran longer in the first stint in hopes of leapfrogging the field on pit strategy, but it didn’t work out.

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.