F1 Business Diary 2017: The Malaysian Grand Prix

Vettel’s bad luck continues as Hamilton extends championship lead.

F1 Business Diary 2017: The Malaysian Grand Prix

It appears that the stars are aligning for Lewis Hamilton in the 2017 Formula One drivers’ championship.

Following a poor Friday practice session it was expected that the Mercedes man would struggle to keep up with the quicker Red Bull and Ferrari cars. The championship leader finished the day sixth fastest whilst rival Sebastian Vettel clocked a lap record of one minute 31.261 seconds to top the timesheets ahead of teammate Kimi Raikkonen. 

Saturday’s qualifying, however, had a completely different result. Vettel, so imperious on the previous day, suffered the cruel blow of an engine failure in Q1 and, as a result, left the door open for Hamilton to register a record 70th career pole position. The Briton was in devastating form during the final ever qualifying session held at the Sepang International Circuit and took his place at the front of the grid by 0.045 seconds from Raikkonen. 

Hamilton finished the race in second place behind Red Bull wunderkind Max Verstappen, who chalked up his second career Formula One win. Vettel - who started from the back of the grid - fought back to finish fourth but he is now 34 points behind his rival with 125 points available in the remaining five races.

Verstappen, 20, passed Hamilton on the forth lap and his victory underlined his status as the series’ hottest young prospect. The Dutchman had previously been left frustrated by his seven DNFs this season and he was, of course, the meat in a Ferrari sandwich in a first corner crash at the recent Singapore Grand Prix when showing decent pace in qualifying. Nevertheless, he displayed skill and maturity above his years to lead for the majority of the 56 laps in Malaysia. 

The drama did not end with the chequered flag. After the race Vettel and Williams driver Lance Stroll, the paddock’s youngest driver, collided on the slowing down lap. The incident resulted in the German’s left-rear suspension smashing and should his gearbox need changing, he will receive a five-place grid penalty at next week’s Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka.

Vettel was his usual uncompromising self when asked about the confrontation with Stroll.  

"We need to see but I am sure we will find a way," said Vettel. "It's not my fault if somebody decides to pick up rubber and hit another car."

Race stewards announced that ‘neither driver was wholly or predominantly to blame’ for the incident and BBC Sport reports that Ferrari will not be able to claim 'force majeure' - an event or effect that cannot be reasonably anticipated or controlled - as a reason to get a free gearbox change if one is necessary.

Vettel admits that he "should have won” but the four-time world champion was optimistic about the “promising speed” of his Ferrari, especially given that he started last.

While Vettel said that "the car is quick so we have reason to believe we can be strong [in Japan]" the south-east Asian leg of the calendar has unquestionably been good so far to Hamilton - who has scored 31 points more than his title rival in the last two races - and has swung the drivers’ championship well in favour of the 32-year-old.    

China extends with Formula One until 2020

The 2017 Malaysian Grand Prix may have been the final race at the Sepang International Circuit but Formula One will continue to have a strong presence in Asia. Formula One Group and race organiser Juss Sports Development have confirmed that the Shanghai International Circuit will continue to host the Chinese Grand Prix for a further three years.  

Moreover, there are further paddock rumours that suggest Formula One is looking to add a second Grand Prix in China to take advantage of the rapidly expanding sports sector in the country.

“We are very pleased to have reached an agreement which will see the Formula One Chinese Grand Prix continue as a fixture of the Formula One world championship for at least a further three years,” said Chase Carey, chief executive of Formula One. “This great country has already demonstrated an overwhelming show of interest in our sport and we firmly believe there is still a great deal of unexplored potential here. 

“That’s why this renewed agreement is so important as part of our development strategy, especially in this part of the world.”

The 15th running of the race will be moved to 15th April in 2018 - two races earlier than usual, and a week after the Bahrain Grand Prix. This change is, however, subject to the approval of the International Automobile Federation (FIA) World Motor Sport Council.

Denmark primed to host maiden Grand Prix

A consortium backing a Formula One Grand Prix in Denmark is reportedly in advanced talks with the open-wheel series' bosses.

According to specialist industry outlet Autosport, the proposed circuit - which would be added to the 2020 Formula One calendar - would run through Copenhagen's city centre and riverfront, as well as crossing the city’s two major bridges. This would be the first track to include a bridge since the 2012 European Grand Prix in Valencia, Spain. 

The financial backing for the race is believed to be coming from a group led by Helge Sander, the former Danish minister of science, technology and development, and Lars Seier Christensen, the ex-owner of Saxo Bank. Sander recently met with Chase Carey during the Singapore Grand Prix.

Autosport further understands that the project has received support from the Danish government, Denmark’s royal family and the Copenhagen city government. It must, however, find private funding to make the project viable.

"We have had some very positive meetings with Formula One management and my feeling is that they would love to have a Grand Prix in Copenhagen,” said Sander. 

Williams announces improved financial profits 

Formula One team Williams Martini Racing and parent company Williams Group Holdings have announced increased profits in the last financial year.

The group revenue grew to UK£85.9 million for the past year, compared to UK£80 million in 2016, while profits rose to UK£10.4 million from UK£7.8 million. The higher revenues in the first six months of 2017 are largely thanks to the payment made to the Wantage-headquartered outfit by Mercedes for the release of Valtteri Bottas from his contract. 

Overall, UK£65.5 million the group’s revenues came from the Formula One team, who are the only outfit in the championship to be listed on the stock market.  

“The Formula One business generated both increased revenues and profit versus the first half of 2016, largely driven by non-recurring one off items and the revenues associated with project work within that period,” said Mike O’ Driscoll, chief executive of Williams Group Holdings. “We are delighted to be celebrating our 40th year in Formula One during 2017. 

“We are confident that with recent additions to the team, coupled with investment in facilities, we will accelerate our progress in the years ahead.”

Hamilton switches to motorbikes

Lewis Hamilton has renewed his personal endorsement deal with motorcycle manufacturer MV Agusta.

The three-time Formula One champion will collaborate with the Italian company to design a new bike model, the F4 LH44, which UK newspaper The Sun reports to be worth UK£60,000.

The new agreement comes after the success of the partnership’s first project in 2016, which saw the Dragster RR LH sell out within hours of its launch.

“I met Lewis a few years ago when he called up our customer care asking in a very humble way to buy a special bike,” said Giovanni Castiglioni, president of MV Agusta. “After having developed some 1/1 bikes for Lewis we turned our common passion into a partnership with the creation of the successful Dragster RR LH produced in 244 units. I’m very excited and proud to continue this cooperation that will see new MV Agustas co-designed with Lewis entering the market in the next month.”

Hamilton added: “I am very excited to continue my partnership with MV Agusta. I love working with Giovanni and the guys at MV Agusta, their passion for engineering and attention to detail produces quite stunning, original looking bikes. 

“My projects with MV Agusta are a great way to combine my love of riding bikes with my interest in creative design process so I am very much involved with the CRC [Castiglioni Research Department] design team throughout.