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Ecclestone Says F1 To Austin in 2012

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, May 26 2010

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer

In an announcement that appeared on Formula One’s official website, F1 is scheduled to return to the U.S. on a purpose-built track in Austin, Tex. in 2012. At a time when New York and New Jeresey were most prominently mentioned as the site of an F1 race, the choice of Austin came as a major surprise after a long period of confidential conversations.

No financing sources for the track or the fee paid to F1’s commerical rights holders have not been identified by Tavo Hellmund, owner of a local marketing firm which has been officially designated the promoter of the U.S. Grand Prix. The event in the state capitol of Texas has the blessing of the city’s major, Lee Leffingwell, but none of the statements of the principals in Austin or at F1 included any mention of how the project will be financed. Current hosting fees paid by cities in the Middle East and Asia have exceeded $25 million annually for races run on multi-million dollar, state-of-the-art facilities.

“We are extremely honored and proud to reach an agreement with the F1 Commercial Rights Holder,” said Hellmund in the official announcement. “We have been diligently working together for several years to bring this great event to Austin, the State of Texas and back to the United States. All parties involved have a great amount of trust and confidence in each other and are committed to establishing the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas as a prestigious global event.”

“This will be the first time a facility is constructed from the ground up specifically for Formula One in the US,” said Bernie Ecclestone, President and CEO of the Formula One Group, which administers the commercial rights of F1. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosted F1 for eight years on its combined infield and oval circuit, a run that ended in 2007. Prior to that, F1 has been hosted at Watkins Glen, Las Vegas, Long Beach, Detroit, Dallas and Phoenix.

Although the agreement was announced for 2012 through 2021, no date was set for the race. The last and lone F1 event in Texas was in Dallas in July of 1984, where temperatures were above 100 degrees in a race won by Keke Rosberg.

By many accounts, Austin has the right demographics and infrastructure to host an F1 event as well as being located in a state long supportive of open-wheel racing in the form of Indy cars. The city sometimes known as “Silicon Hills” is within easy access of the Dallas-Ft. Worth metro area, San Antonio and Houston.

“This is a case of the right timing in the right place,” said Hellmund. “As many Americans know, Austin has earned a reputation as one of the ‘it’ cities in the United States. Austin features that rare combination of ideal geographic location and beauty. Its fine dining, world-renowned hospitality and excellent transportation infrastructure make Austin ideally suited to host and manage an event of this magnitude. Few cities if any in America could rival the connectivity of all the key elements needed for hosting a Formula 1 event as well as Austin. Now, many people around the world will have the opportunity to experience a world-class event, facility and city.”

The online story in the Austin American-Statesman was flooded with a variety of comments, many concerned about the cost and location of a facility as well as others enthusiastic about the event.

Financing for F1 events in the U.S. has historically been a problem. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway withdrew after 2007 as a result of the dramatic increase in rights fees from the $12 million annual payment for the first F1 race at Indy in 2000. The Indy race failed to draw major sponsorship, despite an incentive for both the track and F1 to sell one. More recently, the US F1 team failed to make the grid at the season-opener in 2010 in part due to a lack of sponsorship.

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, May 26 2010