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Vietnam Grand Prix: As Valencia’s F1 track lies abandoned and in disrepair, can Hanoi learn any lessons?

Formula 1’s desire to attract new markets in the far East shows no sign of abating with the expected addition of Vietnam to the calendar.

But as I discovered on a recent trip to Valencia, Hanoi may have lessons to learn from the many circuits which have succumbed to the extortionate costs involved. 

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Valencia’s Grand Prix track has been abandoned since it was last used by F1 in 2012

For five years it played host to one of the biggest sports on the planet, attracting crowds of more than 100,000 with millions more watching on TV around the world.

But where locals once roared their Spanish hero Fernando Alonso onto one of his greatest ever triumphs in 2012, Valencia’s beachside F1 track is now abandoned, crumbling like a sandcastle.

Strewn across the tarmac lies discarded catch fencing, broken lamp posts, old concrete bollards and smashed glass. A circuit once the scene of some memorable wheel-to-wheel battles and overtakes has been overcome by weeds.

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Weeds now line the disused track in Valencia

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Uncollected fencing and bollards lie scattered across the edge of the track

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Turn 14, where the street-based part of the track joined the purpose-built section

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Broken lamp posts and shattered glass lie across the abandoned track

In reality, Valencia’s once-gleaming F1 facility received little more love when it was on the calendar than it does now. Those on-track battles were few and far between. Critics blamed a poor track layout for failing to create great racing.

At its fifth attempt Valencia did, in fairness, come up trumps – Alonso putting in a breath-taking display of race craft to hustle his lacklustre Ferrari to a thrilling victory from 11th on the grid. It would be the Spanish city’s last hurrah in Formula 1.

Six years on, there are no new racing memories from this now-desolate wasteland.

Amongst the old red and white kerbs and uncollected safety barriers lie two redundant DHL and Santander advertising hoardings.

2012 may have finally delivered a thriller, but in truth the money had long since run out.

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A DHL sign lies uncollected at the edge of the circuit

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Part of a Santander advertising hoarding still remains, six years after Valencia’s last F1 race

Valencia’s struggle to make F1 work financially is nothing new. Many a circuit have had a go before the difficulty of breaking even, never mind make a profit, became rapidly apparent.

In the 21st century alone, five new circuits have been added to the calendar but since disappeared. Istanbul arrived on the scene in 2005 at a brand-new purpose-built track which cost $250 million to build. But it took two hours to get there from the city and failed to generate enough local interest. After hosting seven Grands Prix a financial dispute led to its contract being terminated and the government refusing to approve any more races on the grounds of cost.

The story was much the same in South Korea – a brand new, purpose-built facility more than 200 miles from the capital Seoul that was difficult to reach due to a lack of suitable infrastructure.

Hardly surprising, then, that ticket sales didn’t come close to covering the costs. It lasted just four years.

In India, another new F1 track popped up on the outskirts of the capital New Delhi at a reported cost of more than $400 million.

But problems soon arose. Only three years into a five-year contract, Indian officials and F1’s former ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone couldn’t reach agreement over what time of year the 2014 event would take place.

A big drop in ticket sales after the inaugural 2011 event was compounded by the Uttar Pradesh government deciding to levy the taxes on the sport’s governing body, the FIA, for hosting the event. Why? Well, ironically, they classified Formula 1 as “entertainment” rather than sport. That meant organisers having to pay tax and duties on everything connected with the race, with fans also being required to pay an entertainment tax on tickets. Unsurprisingly, F1 never went back.

Since the American firm Liberty Media took over the sport ahead of the 2017 season, it has failed to add a new event to the already-bulging 21-race calendar. But it’s expected that will soon change in 2020 with the addition of Vietnam to the schedule. It’s thought a deal could be announced within weeks.

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The new Vietnam circuit is expected to be on the outskirts of Hanoi. Photo by Huy Phan on Pexels.com

The venue is believed to be around seven miles west of Hanoi and will be partially street-based, unlike the purpose-built facilities which failed in Turkey, India and South Korea but very much like Valencia.

Without any Vietnamese drivers on the grid, never mind a native double world champion like Spain’s Fernando Alonso, Hanoi has a tough task on its hands to keep its Grand Prix longer than many circuits which have come and gone before.

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Valencia’s old pit straight – now a public road – with the former pit garages to the left

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This building became the F1 pit garages when Valencia hosted the Grand Prix

 

F1 traveller’s guide: Nurburgring

It remains unconfirmed at the moment, but it is highly likely that the Nurburgring will be announced shortly as venue of the 2013 German Grand Prix.

The circuit has hosted the German race and the European Grand Prix over the years.

Located around 43 miles south of Cologne, the circuit is a much shorter version of the 14 mile Nordschleife track which had claimed so many lives in previous decades.

The modern facility may not be the legendary challenge of the 14 mile Nordschleife, but it has certainly delivered some memorable races over the years.

In 1999, Johnny Herbert snatched a magnificent win for the Stewart team. Six years later, Kimi Raikkonen was dealt a cruel blow after suffering a tyre failure at the beginning of the last lap while leading.

So what do fans planning a trip to the Nurburgring need to know?

After Briony Dixon’s excellent guide to the Hungaroring, in this third edition of my F1 traveller’s guide, Anthony French is back, following his valuable Monaco Grand Prix insight last week.

Here, he shares his experience from the 2007 European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring – a race which fans in the UK had the pleasure of listening to Murray Walker commentate on for BBC Radio 5 Live, while regular commentator David Croft was on paternity leave.

Travel

“I made my own way to the Nurburgring, staying at a local B&B roughly 5-6 miles from the circuit, which cost between 20 and 30 euros a night even at inflated Grand Prix weekend prices – very reasonable.

“I had travelled to Germany via P&O ferries from Hull to Rotterdam then onwards by car (allowing two days to get to the circuit in time).

“The B&B boasted several other fans all of whom made a similarly early start to get to the track on the Sunday morning.”

Getting to the circuit

“Surprisingly, the Nurburgring was an easy circuit to navigate where parking arrangements are concerned.

“It was simply a matter of finding the correct entry gate (most of which are located near the circuit’s main entrance) and driving straight into a convenient parking spot.

“Walking from the car was however a little more awkward and not for the elderly or infirm – pathways are little more than bumpy, with muddy tracks which are terrible after rain (which it did with vigour in 2007!).

Where to sit

“In 2007 I was sitting in stand T11 – opposite the Kumho Kurve and opening sequence of corners.

“Considering the traditionally uniform nature of racing at the new Nurburgring, prices were surprisingly high and on a par with ‘blue-riband’ races such as Monaco and Spa – 277 euros for a Sunday-only grandstand seat.

“The 2007 race did not disappoint however, and the T11 stand is an excellent place to sit for first-corner action and the sight of the cars plunging downhill at full chat later in the lap.

“Beware of the local weather though! The T11 stand is supposed to be a covered stand, but strong winds often drive the rain under the canopy and soak large sections of the crowd.

“Always wrap up warm and take waterproofs otherwise it could be a very miserable experience – local conditions can change in an instant.”

The facilities

“Toilet facilities were plentiful at the 2007 event, as were merchandise stalls and food outlets. As is the case with most F1 events, these were rather highly priced and worth avoiding if you value the contents of your wallet!

“A packed lunch of your own (or pre-bought food from the local supermarket) is probably a good idea and in no way discouraged by the circuit organisers. A random bag-search was in place in 2007 but I am unaware if the practice still continues.”

Top tips

“Be prepared for all kinds of weather.

“If possible, book into a covered stand.

“Remember your walking boots for the walk from car park to circuit.

“Taking food of your own is a good idea.”

I know it’s already 2nd January and so you may be trying to get Christmas songs out of your head, but this little rhyme by F1 journalist Will Buxton is well worth a read!

The Buxton Blog

So I know I haven’t blogged in ages and I’m sorry for that. You know me. I post very infrequently, and as you might have seen… the last month or so has been fairly frantic what with a few fairly important trips to the USofA.

Anyway, as the Christmas turkey settled in my belly, and the hangover begins to wear off, I thought I’d post something I knocked up over the past few days.

It’s all thanks to a tweet from Harry Agapidis @harryagapidis, which arrived on Christmas Eve and refused to remove itself from my brain as we started singing the very tune to which he had provided an alternative opening gambit. It seemed only right I try and finish it off…

So thank you Harry, and Merry Christmas everyone.

Hark, Heinz Harald Frentzen sings
Christmas on the Nurburgring
Adenau and Karussell
Helmets by Arai and Bell
Greatest win…

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Button wins Brazilian bonanza as Vettel clinches third title

Jenson Button won a thrilling Brazilian Grand Prix at Sao Paulo’s Interlagos circuit, ahead of the Ferrari’s of Fernando Alonso and  Felipe Massa.

But with Sebastian Vettel’s fighting drive to a well-earned sixth-place finish, Alonso’s second place was not enough to deny the German a third World title.

Vettel clinched the championship by just three points in what Red Bull team boss Christian Horner described as “the most stressful” race he’d been involved in.

For Vettel, the record books just keep tumbling. At the age of just 25, he is the youngest-ever triple World Champion and one of only nine drivers to have clinched the Formula One World Championship three times.

And off the back of his titles in 2010 and 2011, Vettel has joined an even more exclusive club of drivers to have won three World Championships consecutively. Only Juan Manuel Fangio (1954-57) and Michael Schumacher (2000-04) had achieved that feat previously.

A top four finish would have guaranteed Vettel the title. After the opening lap, it was obvious the task in hand was to prove one of his greatest challenges yet.

From fourth on the grid Vettel had a poor start, dropping down to seventh. Approaching turn four, it went from bad to worse for the German. Bruno Senna – whose uncle Ayrton had held the record for youngest triple World Champion – misjudged his breaking point on turn-in, slamming into the side of the Red Bull, spinning him round.

Cars dodged to the left and right as Vettel was left rolling downhill in reverse. Only until the last of the back-of-the-grid stragglers had past could the German spin around and set off in pursuit, in what was now a damaged car.

Meanwhile up ahead, Alonso was making the most of his championship rival’s misfortune.

From his seventh-placed grid slot, the Spaniard made up two places off the start line. A lap later, he made yet more ground, scything up the inside of Mark Webber’s Red Bull and team-mate Massa into turn one.

Whether he was aware of Vettel’s predicament or not, it was opportunistic driving from Alonso, who now found himself in the vital third place he would need to win the title, should Vettel fail to score.

The German, though, had other ideas.

With the track becoming increasingly slippery, Alonso chose to switch to intermediate tyres on lap ten. Vettel did likewise. In the absence of pit radio, Alonso would have been astonished to see Vettel in his mirrors as he exited the pits. Boy had Vettel made up ground.

Ahead of the two men in contention for the championship, Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and Jenson Button were driving superbly in the tricky conditions, notching up a huge lead over the rest of the field.

All that changed on lap 22, however, after the safety car was deployed to clear up dangerous amounts of debris scattered across the track.

Eight laps later, Hulkenberg led the field off the restart, with Button, Hamilton, Alonso and Vettel in hot pursuit.

On lap 31, Hamilton, in his last race for Mclaren, made a bold move on team-mate Button to take over second place. Then, on lap 48, Hulkenberg made a rare error, putting a wheel on a slippery white line, and Hamilton was into the lead.

It was a lead that lasted for just seven laps, though, as Hulkenberg spun into the British driver while attempting a re-pass into turn one.

Retirement in his final outing for the team which had nurtured him since he was thirteen was not the ending Hamilton would have wanted – or deserved.

All of this enabled Button to scamper clear into an unassailable lead. Behind the 2009 World Champion, Vettel’s dramas never ceased.

Wheel-to-wheel battles with the likes of Massa and Kamui Kobayashi continued. And then there was the weather, which changed almost as rapidly as the on-track combat the TV director chose to follow. One moment it was a pit stop for slick tyres. Three laps later, Vettel would be in for intermediates.

A small favour from Michael Schumacher – the man whom he admired so much as a young boy – was the only saving grace for Vettel on a day everything seemed conspired against him. The seven times World Champion – in his last outing for Mercedes before finally calling it a day – decided not to get involved in his fellow country-man’s charge for the championship and duly let him by for sixth place.

But even though Massa had let team-mate Alonso by for second place two laps earlier, seventh would have been good enough for Vettel.

“It is difficult to imagine what goes through my head now even for myself,” Vettel said. “I am full of adrenaline and if you poke me now I wouldn’t feel it.

“It was an incredible race. When you get turned around at Turn Four for no reason and it becomes like heading the wrong way down the M25 it is not the most comfortable feeling.

“I was lucky no-one hit me but the car was damaged and we lost a lot of speed, especially when it dried up. Fortunately it started to rain again and I felt so much happier.

“A lot of people tried to play dirty tricks [during the season], but we did not get distracted by that and kept going, and all the guys gave a big push right to the end.”

For Alonso, it was the second time in three seasons that a third World title had slipped from his grasp.

In 2010 a strategic error by the Ferrari team allowed Vettel to snatch the title in the Abu Dhabi season finale. This year, there is no doubt that Alonso has dragged a dog of a car that simply had no place to be in contention for the World Championship. But for being caught up in first lap accidents in Belgium and Japan, he would have won the title.

“I’m very proud of the team,” said Alonso. “We lost the championship before today, not in Brazil, this is a sport after all.

“When you do something with your heart and do it 100% you have to be proud of yourself and your team and we’ll try again next year.”