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F1 2017 driver review: Valtteri Bottas

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Valtteri Bottas

Team: Mercedes AMG Petronas
Car No.: 77
Races: 20
Wins: 3
Podiums (excluding wins): 10
Pole Positions: 4
Fastest Laps: 2
Points: 305
Laps Led: 187
Championship Position: 3rd

When asked for a single word to sum up his season at the final race of the year in Abu Dhabi, Valtteri Bottas elected to use “disappointing”.

Rewind 12 months, and the Finn would never have used such an adjective to describe a year that saw him win three races, take four poles and finish the year third in the championship. However, given he was driving for Mercedes and stood a chance in the title fight at one stage, the late-season downturn left Bottas frustrated at a missed opportunity to capture a shock maiden title.

Bottas took to life at Mercedes well after being drafted in as a late replacement for Nico Rosberg following the German’s sudden retirement. He was on pole for just his third race, and won his fourth in Russia with a convincing display after being hounded by Sebastian Vettel throughout.

All three of Bottas’ wins – add Austria and Abu Dhabi to his maiden victory – were taken in similar fashion, soaking up race-long pressure from a car just behind to convert it into victory. They were icy cool displays befitting a Finnish racer.

And yet there were never any devastating, dominant displays as executed by Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton. Bottas was more consistent through the middle part of the year, with five straight podiums from Canada to Hungary putting him in the title fight, but no wins between Austria and the final race of the year in Abu Dhabi proved costly.

Curiously, Bottas’ form began to dip when Mercedes confirmed his new contract for 2018, with the ex-Williams racer admitting himself it was one of the toughest patches of his career. However, he was able to bounce back well late on, taking pole for the final two races and capping the year off with a win in Abu Dhabi.

Perhaps the season was disappointing for Bottas in so much as he didn’t beat his teammate or live up to the potential of the car. But given this was his first year in a top team, he performed decently enough for the most part.

The real question is whether it is enough in the long term for Mercedes. With the likes of Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon already being linked with a seat for 2019, Bottas will head into the new season knowing he must up his game and really take the fight to Hamilton if he wants certainty regarding his future.

Season High: Soaking up pressure from Vettel to take his first win in Russia.

Season Low: An anonymous run to P5 at the United States GP as Hamilton dominated.

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.