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Hellmund's Revenge

The man that brought F1 to Austin now behind Mexican Grand Prix

By Richard Whittaker, 8:00AM, Wed. Aug. 27


Tavo Hellmund, the mastermind behind bringing Formula One to Austin, is part of the team behind the Mexican Grand Prix, scheduled to start in 2015.
Photo by John Anderson

Not all economic migrants are heading north over the border: Tavo Hellmund, the man that brought Formula One motor racing to Austin, and was the driving visionary behind Austin's Circuit of the Americas, is part of a consortium that has returned F1 to Mexico City.

The race had provisionally been listed – along with the long-awaited New Jersey street race, and South Korea – on the 2014 schedule, but never materialized in the final listing. However, recently F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has confirmed that the Mexico race will take place in 2015 at the refurbished Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez. The 2.876 mile track previously hosted Formula 1 from 1962 to 1970, returning from 1986 to 1992. The current deal for the Formula 1 Gran Premio de Mexico is reportedly for five years, compared to Austin's 10 year contract.

Bringing the race back to Mexico City is as much a homecoming for Hellmund as bringing it to Austin for the first time. His late father, Gustavo Hellmund, promoted the race during its second tenure there. That's part of how Tavo Hellmund got into motor racing as a competitor and then, later, a promoter.

According to Forbes, the new project is a collaboration between Hellmund and Alejeandro Soberon, CEO of entertainment goliath CIE. Also backing the deal was Carlos Slim Domit, a member of the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile's senate and son of the world's richest man, Carlos Slim. But most important was the approval of Ecclestone, a long time personal friend of Hellmund's, and the man that ultimately had to take the Austin race away from him before the first event in 2012.


Tavo Hellmund, Red McCombs, and Bobby Epstein, the men behind the Circuit of the Americas.
Photo by John Anderson

The behind-the-scenes details were scant, but what emerged showed a pretty ugly fight between Hellmund on one side, and his money men – Red McCombs and Bobby Epstein – on the other. It basically shook out like this: Hellmund had the contract to hold the event, but Epstein and McCombs owned the track, and they soon locked horns. With the race in peril, Ecclestone finally struck a deal directly with the track management (a much worse one than Hellmund had reached), and the race went ahead. Hellmund sued his former partners but eventually settled his lawsuit and severed all relationships with the Circuit of the Americas.

However, racing fans know full well that COTA is the track that Tavo built, especially its signature hairpin turn one. And while Hellmund's name was rarely heard inside the fence on the weekend of the first race, Ecclestone actually paid for a sign saying "Get well Gustavo" outside the gates of the circuit, when the elder Hellmund was ill.

Now the younger Hellmund will be leaving a very different legacy in Mexico, and it raises an interesting conundrum for COTA management. Will having another race so close by increase interest in F1 in the larger region, and pull in bigger audiences, or will Mexican fans skip the flight to the US, and just watch Mexican drivers Esteban Gutierrez of Sauber and Sergio Perez of Force India on their home track?

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