F1 Business Diary 2018: The Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton was the beneficiary of good fortune for his first win of the season while in the paddock talks about Asian expansion and the series’ technical regulations continue.

F1 Business Diary 2018: The Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix ended with a familiar face on the top of the podium as Lewis Hamilton won his 61st Formula One race but his route to getting there was anything but conventional.

A wacky race on the Baku street circuit saw plenty of incident. The two Red Bull cars knocked each other out in a brainless collision, for which the precocious but erratic Max Vertsappen should take the majority of the blame; Romain Grosjean crashed behind the safety car after accidentally ‘bumping’ a switch in his Haas; and, most significantly, Valteri Bottas was denied victory when his tyre exploded whilst leading three laps from the finish.

The Finn’s Mercedes colleague Hamilton was the beneficiary but admitted afterwards that he and the team needed to improve if they are to keep pace with Ferrari.

Sebastian Vettel, who started from pole and was well in charge of the race before the series of crashes that saw him fall behind Bottas following a pit stop, should be most disappointed. The German lost his drivers’ championship lead to Hamilton and his place on the podium when locked up trying to overtake Bottas when racing resumed four laps out.

Sebastian Vettel lost his drivers’ championship lead to Hamilton and his place on the podium when he locked up trying to overtake Bottas when racing resumed four laps out

Bratches looks to Asia for growth

A street circuit race in Hanoi looks likely to be Formula One’s next move to grow the sport in Asia.

The capital of Vietnam is on the verge of getting a marquee event, according to Formula One managing director of commercial operations Sean Bratches.

“We think Hanoi could come on in the next couple of years, and we’re working with the Hanoi government to that end,” Bratches told the Associated Press, although he rebuffed the idea that the race would be on next season’s schedule.

“This (Hanoi) is a street race where we can go downtown, where we can activate a large fanbase,” he added. “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 Grand Prix would “be left to local Chinese partners”, with Beijing thought to be a strong candidate.

Title talk

Liberty has managed to secure a number of new and renewed commitments for race title sponsorships in recent weeks.

Formula One’s official tyre supplier, Pirelli, stepped up to put its name to the returning French Grand Prix in June in a deal that covers the 2019 edition too.

Mario Isola, head of car racing at Pirelli, said: “Formula One is an extraordinary platform for research and development for our technical teams, but also a wonderful communication tool.

“As France is one of the biggest markets, it was key for us to reinforce our visibility and our presence on the circuit and the paddock. The French Round at Le Castellet will be an important moment in the 2018 season and Pirelli is happy to be part of it as a title sponsor.”

It comes after Singapore Airlines renewed its deal as title sponsor for its home race for the 2018 and 2019 editions.

Although this has yet to be officially confirmed by either Emirates or Liberty, the airline appears to be the new title of the Spanish Grand Prix. The Emirates name and branding are listed on the official web page of the mid-May race.

Brazilian sports business news outlet Máquina do Esporte reports that Emirates, a global partner of Formula One since 2013, has replaced former title sponsor Pirelli for the event at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

Pirelli, Formula One's official tyre supplier, has taken up title sponsorship of June's French Grand Prix

Teams set to vote on technical changes

The Formula One teams will vote on Monday regarding changes to the design of the front wings in order to improve overtaking in 2019.

30th April is the final day that changes can be made to the technical regulations for the 2019 season and after the teams rejected the International Automobile Federation (FIA) proposals to improve overtaking in 2019 they were asked to do their own research into front wing changes that would make for better racing.

“The conclusion of the FIA’s work, in collaboration with [Formula One management], was what the teams had analysed their proposal as being suitable and supporting their analysis that it would improve the ability of the cars to follow," Williams chief technical officer Paddy Lowe told Motorsport.com.

“I think it all makes sense. We’ve got another three years of this formula, and if we don’t make changes at this point, it becomes a bit pointless because there are a huge set of changes for 2021. So this is the time that F1 should act and act decisively for the good for the show.”

Red Bull and Honda gearing up

Red Bull have opened the door to swapping their engine from Renault to Honda in a bid to improve reliability and performance.

Honda’s engine has impressed in the Red Bull sister car of Toro Rosso so far this season following the Japanese manufacturers split from McLaren.

Pierre Gasly’s fourth place in Bahrain was a better result than anything Honda achieved with McLaren during their three years together.

On Saturday in Baku, Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko met with Honda motorsport chief Masahi Yamamoto for the first official talks regarding an engine deal beyond this season.

“Because it was the very first meeting, we discussed the conditions of both sides, what do we expect of each other,” Yamamoto told F1.com. “It was the first discussion.

“Yes, it was positive. We do believe we were both satisfied. There’s a good relationship between us. However, it’s the first time we have an official meeting. It’s the starting point for a potential future.”

The FIA’s sporting regulations state that manufacturers must inform them before the middle of May as to which teams they intend to supply next season. That gives Honda and Red Bull just over two weeks to complete a deal to meet the deadline.

Red Bull, who endured a nightmare race in Baku, have opened the door to swapping their engine from Renault to Honda in a bid to improve reliability and performance

B-team not an option for Williams, says team boss

Williams will not become a B-team to Mercedes or anyone else, with deputy team principal Claire Williams declaring they are “a constructor.”

Reports have emerged claiming that Lance Stroll’s billionaire father wants Williams to enter a partnership with current engine partner Mercedes, similar to the Ferrari deal with Haas.

The Haas VF-18 is remarkably similar-looking to Ferrari’s SF71H as well as sharing engines, gearboxes, suspensions and other listed parts

However, Williams insists that despite poor early season results - her team are yet to score a point in three races - she is not considering a B-team deal with anyone.

“I don’t know where that story has come from,” she told Autosport. “We are a constructor.

“Frank [Williams] and Patrick [Head] fought for our independence for decades, and they did an incredibly good job.

“One of my responsibilities is to protect our independence. And that’s incredibly important to us.”