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Qualifying at the 2016 United States Grand Prix

Sunday’s USGP marks the 5th anniversary of Formula 1’s return to the United States at Circuit of The Americas, as well as the return of America to the starting grid, with Haas F1 Team racing in front of their home audience.

For Haas F1’s qualifying debut on home soil, Romain Grosjean’s day ended early, landing him P17 in Q1 while teammate Esteban Gutierrez made it to the second qualifying round to place 14th in the session. Both drivers struggled yesterday in practice with mechanical failures to their new front wings and low grip as they tried to optimize their setups for the weekend.

Lewis Hamilton, who trails his teammate Nico Rosberg by 33 points, took his 9th pole position of the season and his first ever at Circuit of the Americas, while besting his teammate by over two tenths of a second. Interestingly, all of Lewis’ victories have come from second on the grid, the only other race winner at Circuit of the Americas being Sebastian Vettel.

Haas F1 Team is currently 8th in the constructor’s championship standings, having scored 28 points and a double points finish at the last race in Japan. Speaking in yesterday’s team principal’s press conference, Red Bull’s Christian Horner commented on Haas F1 Team’s inaugural season:

“I think they’ve had a great first year. First of all, it’s super to have a credible team on the grid. Haas has got a great track record in motorsport in this territory and to come into Formula One is no insignificant challenge so, to have come in, to have come in credibly and efficiently and gone about scoring a good portion of points, being competitive, I think it’s very, very positive.”

Renault team principal Cyril Abiteboul was also complimentary, adding:

“I think they’ve done a great job and in particular because they are ahead of us so they are some form of nightmare to us, to the championship. Mostly, I think it is interesting because they are showing that, as always, the points you are taking at the start of the season are very important.”

This weekend marks the first time an American F1 team has taken part in a Grand Prix weekend in three decades.

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A Cold One in Canada

2016 Canadian Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton 1st, Sebastian Vettel 2nd, Valtteri Bottas 3rd

2016 Canadian Grand Prix:  Lewis Hamilton 1st, Sebastian Vettel 2nd, Valtteri Bottas 3rd

Unseasonably cool temperatures, changing weather conditions, and gusty winds added to the unforgiving nature of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve this weekend.  As fans braved race day temperature in the mid 50s, pole sitter Lewis Hamilton and runner up Nico Rosberg lost out to Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari at the start as Vettel overtook both drivers on the main straight before turn 1.  The Mercedes teammates came together briefly, bumping wheels as Hamilton forced Rosberg onto the chicane’s runoff, where he rejoined the race in 9th.

After several collisions with the wall and even more near misses earlier in the weekend, it was pit strategy that played a key role as the cooler weather today made lap 25 an optimum choice according to Pirelli for ultra and regular soft tires on a one stop strategy.  Vettel’s two stop strategy was revealed on lap 11 as the virtual safety car was called due an engine failure on Jenson Button’s McLaren-Honda on lap 9.  Lewis was able to retake the lead, setting fastest sector times around the circuit, eventually changing his ultra soft tires in on lap 24 for regular softs.  Without looking back, Lewis held the lead to take his second win this season.

Williams F1 Team’s Valtteri Bottas, who was also on a one stop strategy, started from seventh on the grid, working his way through the field to finish third behind Hamilton and Vettel.

Hamilton has now narrowed the gap to Rosberg’s lead at 116-107 as the season heads back to Europe for the Summer.

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Heineken’s Gianluca Di Tondo on F1 in America


Gianluca Di Tondo introducing Heineken as Formula 1’s new global partner at the Canadian Grand Prix

Heineken announced their partnership with Formula 1 this weekend at the Canadian Grand Prix, and Global Marketing director Gianluca Di Tondo shared his thoughts on how the new partnership would affect the sport’s growth in America.  A long time Formula 1 fan himself, Di Tondo grew up in Italy following the sport not as a Ferrari fan, but as a fan of racing.  Following his presentation on Thursday, some questions remained about how he sees the sport’s future in America, and here are some of his thoughts:

[America] is one of the biggest opportunities that I see . . . If you look at a bit of a parallel with soccer, 5 years ago there was nothing in America, when we were pushing our United Champions League activation, and now five years later we are also sponsoring Major League Soccer, because its the sport that is growing the most in the U.S.  I think we can do something similar with Formula 1.  It’s not going to happen overnight, but I think we are pretty good at engaging with people.  We have two very strong things, on one side, we are a very creative company, so we are going to find a way to intrigue an American consumer around Formula 1.  Second, we are a very good story teller, so we are going to find a way to make this story travel.

Gianluca emphasized a step by step approach in Heineken’s program, learning from the remaining two thirds of this season before a full launch in 2017:

I think 2016 is going to be our warm up, there are a lot of things we need to learn ourselves, as Formula 1 is a completely new world for us.  It is a bit more complex world than UEFA Champions League or Rugby World Cup, because there are different tiers of stakeholders, and we need to better understand how it works.  I’m sure we are going to find ways to start bringing in American consumers to turn into Formula 1 fans.

You know, I am a Formula 1 fan, and I’ve been in the grandstands many times in the spectator area, and other times in the paddock club, and the two are too far apart.  So my job is to open the world of Formula 1 to bring these two worlds closer together.  I think the U.S. is a good example of where by doing this, we are going to start bringing in more people and more consumers.  At this moment we have a big ambition, doing everything we can developing the program as we speak with our partnership in Italy.  We are not 100 percent ready for now, but 90% will be ready for September and we will pilot some of our program in the U.S.

Stressing the connection between American fans and the need for more Americans to be involved in the sport as part of home audience interest, how would Heineken’s involvement help energize the American fanbase?

The key to my job is to build the passion for the sport, and that goes beyond a single driver.  I grew up as a sports fan not attached to one specific team, and I think we should bring a program that makes this sport more attractive for people on it’s own.  Relying on just one team or driver can be a bit risky.  So this is why we focus where we can add value, and we are very good at gathering people together to show the race, creating a program to attract people, possibly for the experience of a lifetime.

Elaborating a little bit, Gianluca went on to describe what could be described one scenario as an example of what fans might expect in Austin:

You come to the circuit for a day, walk around in the paddock with Jackie Stewart, you bump into Niki Lauda, then you’re going to have a Heineken party after the race.

What’s not to like?  As Gianluca further explained, he has a vision of what he and Heineken can create for fans of the sport, and the pathway forward included the following roadmap:

So the first thing for me is going to be activating the city, starting a bit earlier, creating a program to get you to the race.  Joining everyone at the race is going to be the natural next step.  I think the entry point is starting with the city, feeling the Formula 1 fever, like something big is coming to town, and when it’s there, you don’t want to miss it.   

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