F1 Friction = Squealing Brakes

Will there be an F1 race in Austin? Not in the short term.

Before their relationship unraveled, F1 project co-founder Tavo Hellmund (l)  and financial backers Red McCombs and Bobby Epstein joined in the April unveiling of the track name Circuit of the Americas.
Before their relationship unraveled, F1 project co-founder Tavo Hellmund (l) and financial backers Red McCombs and Bobby Epstein joined in the April unveiling of the track name Circuit of the Americas. (Photo by John Anderson)

Will Austin's first Formula One race take place in 2012? That remains a mystery, as the developers of the Circuit of the Amer­i­cas and the heads of Formula One trade increasingly terse and cryptic public statements.

The bone of contention remains the $25 million sanctioning fee that the promoters must pay to Formula One for each race. On Nov. 24, the COTA management made a public offer: Not only would they immediately pay that cash, but they would also create an advance schedule for payment of the rest of the 10-year contract. Founding partner Bobby Epstein said the fee had been ready "for some time now," but they had held it back because Formula One management's contract "contained unrealistic and unfeasible demands." Rather than sign that, he and his partners had come up with "a contract similar to what we anticipated receiving." So far, there are no details on the points of disagreement, but F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone seemed unimpressed with the new offer. Taking a break from a complex tax avoidance trial in Ger­many, Ecclestone told AutoWeek that he wants not just the first year's money but also letters of credit for all future races. Compli­cat­ing that is the collapse of the track's handshake agreement with Comptroller Susan Combs to tap the state's Major Events Trust Fund for the fee.

Project co-founder Tavo Hellmund has remained silent on the negotiations, with his last public statement being that he and the other investors were trading offers to buy one another out. Ecclestone was less diplomatic, accusing the investors of "trying to steal from [Hellmund]," and adding that "we're changing the calendar a lot to accommodate these people, and if suddenly they're not there, we're in trouble." The warring parties have little time to resolve this: Eccle­stone has set a Nov. 30 deadline so the calendar can be finalized before the FIA World Motor Sports Council's Dec. 7 meeting in New Delhi.

If they fail to reach an agreement in that time, Ecclestone and COTA have spoken about the possibility of moving the first Austin race to 2013. However, in recent days the F1 supremo has hinted at radical changes in future calendars. Europe, which currently hosts eight races, could go down to five, and he has already penciled in New Jersey for 2013. He even suggested to Agence France-Presse that a Mexican Grand Prix could be in the cards. That could have a far greater impact on the Austin event than a street race by the Hudson: The track was named Circuit of the Americas in part to represent its role as the nearest Grand Prix facility for much of South and Central America. Hellmund had even described Austin as the virtual home race for Mexican driver Sergio Perez.

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Formula One, Circuit of the Americas, Tavo Hellmund

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