F1 aiming for Vietnam GP in 2020

First mooted in 2016, it appears that Formula One’s powers-that-be are finally going to take the sport to Vietnam.

Speaking in 2017, Bernie Ecclestone revealed that the previous year all had been in place to take the sport to Vietnam but he ultimately decided against it.

“I was offered the opportunity to meet the president about doing a deal for a Grand Prix,” he told the Independent. “I could have done the deal and signed it in August.

“Everything was arranged for this to happen but I didn’t do the deal because we already have quite a few races in that part of the world and I thought it might be a little bit over the top to have another one.”

His decision came despite former F1 director Martin Sorrell suggesting Vietnam as a future race location, and Gianluca Di Tondo, senior global brand director of F1 sponsor Heineken also recommending the south-east Asia location. “We are very present in Vietnam through a local partner and they were our guests in Monza and they were over the moon. So why not have a race in Ho Chi Minh City,” he said.

There had been previous talk of a race in Vietnam as early as 2010, but plans to build a track were scuppered by the country’s strict rules which prevented locals from betting on sports events, despite being famous for their love of gambling.

In 2017 this law was relaxed for anyone with a monthly income of more than £360, the country’s first motor sport track having opened months earlier in a bid to take full advantage.

However, last year, F1’s commercial boss, Sean Bratches hinted that Vietnam was back on the agenda.

“I’m spending a lot of time reaching out proactively to cities,” he told AFP during a visit to Shanghai, and ultimately we will realise more street races than we have seen historically.

“We will go to iconic cities where there are large fan bases,” he continued, “particularly new fan bases that we can activate. From a fan standpoint the backdrops of these city centres can really make compelling television and pictures.”

When asked if this would mean more street races in Asia, he replied: “Yes, two.

“We are very focused on bringing additional Grands Prix to the continent here,” he added. “We’re in talks with a couple of cities to that end. We think there is a lot of vibrancy to having a few more street races to the calendar.”

Since then, talk of Vietnam becoming part of the calendar has continued, with some suggesting the deal was done and dusted but that Liberty Media was seeking to announce a race on home territory first, fearing that a race in Vietnam – thereby the first new addition to the calendar under its new owners – before a second American location had been added to the calendar might look awkward, PR-wise.

While F1 in Miami is on hold, talks about Vietnam have continued, and speaking at Suzuka, having returned from the proposed location of the circuit, FIA race director, Charlie Whiting, said the race could form part of the calendar by 2020.

“It’s in the advanced stages of design,” he said of the circuit, less than ten miles west of Hanoi. “As far as I’m aware, they’re aiming for a 2020 grand prix, which shouldn’t be a problem based on previous experience.

“It’s an open site where the pit building’s going to be built,” revealed Whiting. “Part of the track will be built there which doesn’t exist at the moment. But it will become a road, I understand, after that.”

Of course, the news that Vietnam is to host a round of the Formula One World Championship will be of little comfort as fans face the loss of the British Grand Prix – location of the first ever round of the championship in 1950 – after next year’s race.

As the iconic British track endeavours to raise the £13m needed to pay the fee for next year’s race, it appears the sport’s new owners are keen to take the estimated $64m (£49m) organisers in Vietnam are believed to be offering, money that even Bernie turned down.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Suzuka, here.