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Hartley called Red Bull’s Marko after learning of Porsche LMP1 exit

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Brendon Hartley has revealed he pitched himself to Red Bull Formula 1 advisor Helmut Marko after learning of Porsche’s plans to close its LMP1 program at the end of 2018, leading to his surprise grand prix debut with Toro Rosso this weekend.

Hartley was part of Red Bull’s junior program until 2010 when he was dropped by the energy drink giant, prompting him to shift focus to sports car racing.

Hartley joined Porsche’s new LMP1 program in 2014 to race in the FIA World Endurance Championship, winning the drivers’ title in 2015 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans earlier this year.

Porsche announced back in July it would be quitting LMP1 at the end of 2017 in order to turn attention to Formula E, leaving Hartley without a full-time drive.

The New Zealander was confirmed to be making his F1 debut in this weekend’s United States Grand Prix after Pierre Gasly was ruled out due to a clash with Super Formula, coming as a surprise to the racing world.

However, Hartley has revealed he was quick to call Marko, a key decision-maker for Red Bull’s motorsport interests, after finding out about Porsche’s plans to quit LMP1.

“When it was announced Porsche would stop Endurance racing in LMP1 for next year, I called Helmut Marko and I said: ‘I’m a different driver, I’ve learned a lot and if there’s ever an opportunity I’m ready’,” Hartley said.

“He didn’t say much. He just said he got the message and three months later I got the call and this happened very quickly.

“I didn’t know about it much sooner than the press did so it’s been quite a whirlwind of a couple of weeks to arrive here. I’m pretty relaxed at the moment, all things considered.

“Obviously I’ve had quite a bit of time to chat to the engineers and go through some data, little bit of time in the sim and looking forward to Free Practice 1 and seeing how comfortable I feel, and looking forward to the race now on Sunday which is important for me.”

Hartley had been poised to make a switch back to single-seaters for 2018 with Chip Ganassi Racing in the Verizon IndyCar Series, but his Toro Rosso debut has fuelled speculation he could be in the running for a full-time F1 drive next year.

For now, Hartley is only confirmed for the USGP weekend, and is not thinking much about any further run-outs beyond that.

“I’m just focussed on the weekend to see how it goes and what comes from it,” Hartley said.

While there are no clashes between F1 and WEC between now and the end of the season, it would create a brutal run of seven straight race weekends for Hartley were he to be kept on by Toro Rosso through to Abu Dhabi.

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.