F1

Formula One to return to USA -- and Texas

Formula One to return to USA -- and Texas

In a shock announcement today, it was revealed that the FIA Formula One championship would be returning to the calendar in 2012, but not in New York City or Indianapolis, as might have been expected, but in Austin, Texas. Bernie ...

In a shock announcement today, it was revealed that the FIA Formula One championship would be returning to the calendar in 2012, but not in New York City or Indianapolis, as might have been expected, but in Austin, Texas.

Bernie Ecclestone.
Photo by xpb.cc.

"You don't put Austin in same sentence as Monaco or Singapore, but everyone was blown away," said Hellmund said. "I think they fell in love with the city."

Unlike other tracks that have hosted the US Grand Prix in the past, the new home of the event will be purpose-built for Formula One. To be located near the Austin airport, it will be the first pure road course for the event since it ran at its longtime home, Watkins Glen, from 1961 to 1980. The only other US road courses to have hosted the Formula One event were Sebring (1959) and Riverside (1960).

"For the first time in the history of Formula One in the United States, a world-class facility will be purpose-built to host the event," Bernie Ecclestone, CEO of the Formula One Group told formula1.com. "It was thirty years ago that the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix was last held on a purpose-built permanent road course circuit in Watkins Glen, NY, which enjoyed great success."

After the demise of the US Grand Prix at Indianapolis, held from 2000 to 2007, the return of the world's top tier of single-seater racing to the United States has often been rumoured, but most bets were on an event in the New York City area.

After numerous suggestions of a street race in the Big Apple, it was just revealed that the Monticello Motor Club, located some 100 miles NE of the city, had been negotiating with Ecclestone for the rights to hold the event in 2012 or 2013.

"We are cautiously optimistic," club chairman Ari Strauss told the local Times Herald-Record. "If you told me I had to bet on it, I would say there is a 20 per cent chance."

It turns out that Strauss was somewhat too optimistic, as the deal for Houston was being inked as he made his comments.

But while Austin may not have the cachet of New York City, its demographics are strong, with solid technology-based growth in recent years -- the city has been nicknamed "Silicon Hills" -- and its proximity to the other major centers in Texas offers a strong local base of business and spectators for the event.

Austin is currently the 15th-largest city in the US, with a population of over 750,000, nearly identical to that of Indianapolis. However, Houston (4th-largest in the US), San Antonio (7th) and Dallas (8th) are all within 200 miles of Austin, for a population of 200 million within a four-hour driving distance.

"This is a case of the right timing in the right place," said Hellmund. "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."

The date for the event will not be finalized by the FIA until late 2011, but given the high temperatures Austin sees in the summer months -- 35C (95F) is common -- a spring or fall date is more likely than a mid-summer one.

The 1984 Dallas Grand Prix, the only time Formula One has visited Texas in the past, was held on July 8th: at that time, temperatures reached 38C (100F), and the track surface broke up under the 66C (150F) track temperatures and the power of the Formula One cars.

The event was won by Keke Rosberg -- father of current F1 driver Nico -- but is often remembered for Nigel Mansell's attempt to push his Lotus across the finish line before collapsing from exhaustion.

Both Texas and Formula One have changed greatly in the ensuing 26 years, and the purpose-built circuit is unlikely to suffer the same kinds of problems as the temporary Dallas street course, but long-suffering F1 fans in the United States will surely welcome the return of the World Championship to Texas.

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