By: Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent
- Austin circuit faces $25 million budget cut
- Circuit of the Americas ready to roll
- Formula One hails new rules - reactions
Austin circuit faces $25 million budget cut
Local Texan KXAN news reported the Texas State Senate's finance committee has voted against the $25 million it would contribute to the construction of the Circuit of the Americas. However, the Senate’s new proposed budget, still has to be approved by the House of Representatives, and the report also suggest that it is likely ‘most if not all of the incentives’ would be restored when the House of Representatives votes about the proposed budget.
The world-wide economy is still in a dip and governments all over the world have to juggle with their budgets to make both ends meet. “At a time when people are stressed about their schools, stressed about their jobs, stressed about health care and nursing homes, for us to check off $25 million for race cars, I think we make people say where are their priorities,” senator Dan Patrick explained. “That $25 million would pay for 500 teacher salaries. How can we explain to people we’re spending that money on race cars?,” he added.
With a possible $25 million decrease of the construction budget, the circuit might face severe financial problems, and pessimists have suggested it will certainly have serious implications for the construction process. The circuit has still a few other hurdles to take, although construction of the 3.4 mile circuit is on schedule, local authorities have not yet issued all the necessary permits, and there is still an ongoing discussion about who should pay the bills for the much needed road improvements.
How can we explain to people we’re spending that money on race cars?
Politics and politicians are unpredictable, only time will tell whether the House of Representatives will approve the proposed budget, or whether they will turn it down and decide to support the construction of the circuit. One of the investors of the project, Texan Red McCombs admitted there have been problems, but he remained optimistic. “We are able, thus far, to get through these challenges. We're meeting the construction milestones,” he said.
Circuit of the Americas is ready to roll
Despite the bad news about the budget cut, last week The United States Grand Prix group announced the final plans for the race circuit during a press conference in Austin, Texas. The Circuit of the Americas as its official name is, is now ready to start building the track and all its facilities.
Tavo Hellmund, Managing Partner of Full Throttle Productions L.P. and Chairman of Formula One United States Grand Prix, is not just building a race track he announced last week. “We are building a destination for entertainment and business, not simply a race track, and this brand reflects that entire idea. Racing days will account for a total of about 30 days a year, but great performances and winning ideas will be inspired by this brand every day” Hellmund said. Officials also announced plans for a convention center and a trauma center which can be used as a training facility for local emergency care specialists and medical school students.
According to the statement, ‘the Circuit of the Americas’ master plan features a variety of permanent structures designed for business, education, entertainment and race use. Its signature element will be a 3.4-mile circuit track with capacity for 120,000 fans. Other support buildings will include a medical trauma and care training facility, 14 executive meeting suites, a conference center, a banquet hall as well as an expansive outdoor live music space. Future proposed amenities include a driving/riding experience, a motorsports driving club, kart track, grand plaza event center and tower, and a trackside recreational vehicle park.’
Apart from the deal Hellmund has struck with FOM CEO Bernie Ecclestone to host the Formula One United States Grand Prix for the next 10 years, last week Hellmund revealed he has also signed a ten-year deal to host MotoGP motorcycle races on the Austin track. MotoGP is, just like Formula One, a top class high-tech racing series which attracts hundreds of millions of TV spectators around the globe. Both series have a very large fan-base and it is expected during a typical three-day race weekend a total of 300,000 spectators will attend both venues each year.
The ten-year deal includes all three classes of the FIM Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix, and the first race is scheduled for 2013. Hellmund about the MotoGp races, “This is a fantastic opportunity for the State of Texas and this region and I believe it is the first time in American motorsports history that both the cars and motorbikes world championships are held at the same facility annually. We are very proud of becoming the United States international facility for motorsports.”
The first Formula One race will take place in 2012, organizers hope the circuit will be completed in June 2012. An exact date for the United States Grand Prix has yet be revealed, there have been speculations the race would take place in June when the Formula One circus visits the Gilles Villeneuve circuit in Montreal, Canada, but it is also possible the venue will take place shortly before or after the Brazilian Grand Prix, which usually takes place in November.
After problems with the Korean Grand Prix last year -- the construction of the circuit was finished just days before the race would actually take place -- the FIA has warned it will not allow any delay in the homologation of circuits anymore, and made it clear all new tracks, including the Circuit of the Americas and the new Buddh International Circuit in India, will have to be inspected and approved by FIA delegate Charlie Whiting at least three months prior to the event.
Formula One hails new rules - reactions
After last weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix it has become clear Formula One has dramatically changed as a result of the regulation changes, which include the return of KERS and the introduction of the Drag Reduction System, DRS, and the introduction of the new Pirelli tyres. Before the season even had started, many had rubbished the idea of an adjustable rear wing, as they were convinced it would make overtaking too easy and too artificial. Pirelli has been under fire for producing, at the request of the sport’s governing body the FIA, less durable and very fast degrading tyres.
But the balance now seems to have shifted in favor of the new regulations, just a few years ago mentioning an adjustable wing was almost blasphemy, but now friend an foe agree it is one of the best innovations in decades. Flavio Briatore, who was ousted from Formula One after the crash gate scandal, has always been in favor of radical changes, and it will therefore be no surprise the flamboyant Italian is very pleased with the current regulations.
“I've seen the race on TV and I confess that I've never enjoyed myself so much,” he was quoted by with the Italian Gazetta dello Sport. “We used to get bored with car processions: who got off ahead would stay there until the end, if he didn't make mistakes. Instead every option is open now: Webber starts in 18th place and ends up just seven seconds off the winner, and with a few extra laps perhaps he could have won.” And added, “So I must say that the new rules have finally made Formula One a thrill. Before it was depressive, while now there is unpredictability. The tyres have changed things for the better.”
Mercedes GP driver German Nico Rosberg was also happy with the DRS wing, and like other drivers did, noticed he had more fun racing, as he was able to pass other drivers. McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton, winner of the Chinese Grand Prix had a similar opinion. “It’s rare to have battles like the ones we saw today [last Sunday]; you really had to think about the situation, and I loved that challenge, but having to overtake people made things so much sweeter,” the 2008 champion said after the race.
I think that Formula One can deliver spectacular, fast, close, nail biting racing
His team principal Martin Whitmarsh was equally enthusiastic, “I think that Formula One can deliver spectacular, fast, close, nail biting racing. That must have been one of the most exciting races I’ve ever seen. It’s incredibly rewarding to know that our sport is in good shape.” About the Pirellis he said, “Pirelli has had to come into the sport with very little testing, and we have to congratulate them on what they have done. Individual drivers can complain about individual tyre sets but the fact is, looking at the sport, we have had tyres that are safe and produced a bit of a challenge to the teams and are better for the spectacle.”
The races are unpredictable, more overtaking is happening, so they’re working
Seven-times world champion Michael Schumacher has witnessed many different formulas during his long Formula One career, and was pleasantly surprised by the effect the new rules have had on the sport. “That was a lot of racing in one Grand Prix this afternoon [Sunday] and very exciting, I had a lot of fun this afternoon,” the German said after the race. Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali wasn’t entirely convinced, “From the spectacular point of view, people enjoy seeing the wing opening and closing and the drivers getting closer and then fighting. It is a fact and we have to live with it.”
Team Lotus driver Heikki Kovalainen, “Lots has been said about the new rules, I agree they’re a great success; the races are unpredictable, more overtaking is happening, so they’re working.” Ex Formula One driver and now BBC commentator David Coulthard was especially happy with the new Pirellis, “Thank you Pirelli,” the Scot said, “what they've given us is great, strategic racing.”
Of course Pirelli was also delighted with the result of the first three races of the 2011 Formula One season. “It’s hard to imagine how we can top this at the next Grand Prix in Turkey, but we’re certainly going to try to have something just as good,” sporting director Paul Hembery said.
Several polls have also indicated 90% of the race fans are happy with the new regulations, and thought they have contributed to a new and more exiting style of Grand Prix racing, only 10% thought overtaking has become too artificial.
And according to the Finnish newspaper Turun Sanomat, Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix saw a record-breaking 63 overtaking maneuvers, the highest number recoded during a dry race in the last 20 years of Grand Prix racing. About 50% of those passes took place in the DRS overtaking zone. The race in Malaysia saw 56 overtaking moves, and compared to the 24 passes in 2010 on that very same circuit in wet conditions, the only right conclusion must be that the new regulations certainly have contributed to more overtaking, and thus have improved the sport.
Join us again next week for another episode of “Formula One: On and off track”