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Is the F1 future of the US Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas under threat?

The future of the US Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas could be in jeopardy after the Texas state government cut the amount of funding it c...

Is the F1 future of the US Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas under threat?

The future of the US Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas could be in jeopardy after the Texas state government cut the amount of funding it contributes to the track.

Back in 2011, COTA’s owners, Bobby Epstein and Red McCombs, struck a deal with Texas’ former governor Rick Perry, and comptroller Susan Combs, that reportedly guaranteed $250m to subsidise the race for a ten-year period.

The state therefore contributed about $25m when the track opened back in 2012, and again in 2013 and 2014, but this year the amount was lowered to $19.5m.

XPB.cc COTA Austin start

The decrease was a result of a detailed audit of how Texas subsidises sporting events and the government concluded that F1 did not generate enough economic benefits to the state, which led to the decreased contribution.

Speaking to the Austin-American Statesman, Epstein was pessimistic about the chances of keeping the track’s F1 slot and angry at the changes to the subsidy.

Bobby Epstein

He said: “To use a technical term. I think we’re screwed. It hit us cold, no one could foresee this coming.”

“[It’s] a breach of trust. The state clearly made promises. I think we made a deal, and we lived up to our end of the deal.”

“It’s like you go to a restaurant and order a dinner, and then after you’ve eaten the meal they change the price.”

Bernie Ecclestone, who has never been afraid to threaten the future of a race if it cannot meet his financial terms, was also doubtful that the race would return to COTA.

He said: “If it’s changed, it’s going to be difficult to continue the race in Austin,”

Lewis Hamilton won the US Grand Prix last month, and clinched his third world title in the process, but the severe weather that disrupted the event had already cost the promoters millions in lost revenue from concessions and on-the-gate ticket sales.

But despite the problems this year the U.S Grand Prix at Austin had a lot going for it and has many fans within the F1 community and is a big draw for sponsors and guests. It's loss would be damaging for the sport, which has struggled since the 1980s to find a sustainable home in the world's largest economy.

XPB.cc Lewis Hamilton

By contrast, the return of the Mexican Grand Prix to the F1 calendar two weeks ago was hailed as a huge success thanks to its sell out crowd. The races organisers have already said they are hoping to attract 30,000 more fans in 2016 than the 330,000 people who attended this year.

Alejandro Soberon, the boss of the Mexican race, told Autosport: “We're really going to shoot for 360,000 people next year. We're going to try to find additional capacity, with the Esses an area where we are thinking we could put some people.

"Given the word of mouth, and the level of interest we received from the people who are willing to buy a ticket for next year, we think the second year is going to be more successful than the first, and I know that rarely happens in Formula 1.

"But it's the same with a girlfriend - you have to give her a great excuse to come back to you every day. If you do that, they tend to stay.

XPB.cc Sergio Perez

Federico Gonzalez, the CEO of CIE, the entertainment company behind the Mexico City race, told this website that support from the Mexican government was one of the key factors in its return to the calendar

He said: “I’ve said it many times that this table stands on four legs: one is the Mexican federal government – which has helped us by putting in financial support – Mexico City, the promoter, and companies like America Movil, Telmex and Telcel who put the drivers into Formula 1 for many years – those are the four things that have made this Grand Prix happen in Mexico City.”

Gonzalez also pointed out that the promoters could have sold more seats to this year’s race, but wanted to take a cautious approach to maintain the excitement around the race for future seasons.

He said: “We know that the enthusiasm that we have right now may not stand always or for future years. We know that we could have possibly sold 50,000 more tickets for this year, but we wanted to stop on the amount of tickets that we have already sold in order to protect the rest of the contract that we have and in order to protect the race for future years.”

Speaking during the US Grand Prix weekend, Epstein acknowledged an impact on Austin from the Mexico event being scheduled a week later, but voiced his hope that the addition of another race in the same time zone as COTA would boost interest in F1 in America.

He said: “There were people from Mexico that had been coming here that want to see the inaugural [event] just like our inaugural year the response was off the charts and the attendance went down after that and now it’s levelled out and is going back up.

“In the long run, in years two and three, you’ll see [that] the more times we have F1 on TV here in real-time, day-time, primetime viewing, the easier it is for a fan to become in touch with the sport and in the long run that helps everyone.”

What do you think of COTA’s situation? Would you miss the US Grand Prix in Austin? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.
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