Formula One - On and Off track week 22

Formula One - On and Off track week 22

From Indianapolis to Austin, Silverstone promises unique experience, Donington still hanging on, Korea still on schedule? From Indianapolis to Austin? Although the news about an American Grand Prix in Austin, Texas in 2012 was welcomed by many...

From Indianapolis to Austin, Silverstone promises unique experience, Donington still hanging on, Korea still on schedule?

From Indianapolis to Austin?

Although the news about an American Grand Prix in Austin, Texas in 2012 was welcomed by many American Formula One fans, the project has raised many questions. Last week FOM boss Bernie Ecclestone announced he had signed a ten-year contract with Tavo Hellmund, Managing Partner of race promoter Full Throttle Productions LP, to stage the Grand Prix in Austin from 2012 to 2021. In the official press release Full Throttle Production LP was described as "an Austin, Texas, special event and sports production company that provides event conception, event project management, day of event oversight, staffing and volunteer services, venue planning and logistics support." In the past they have been involved in NASCAR and USAC events, like the Allstate Texas Thunder 200 at Thunder Hill Raceway in 2006.

USA Grand Prix, from Indianapolis to Austin.
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They do have some experience in organizing races, but promoting a Formula One race which attracts hundreds of millions of TV spectators world-wide is of course something else. And speaking of TV, there is nothing known about TV contracts with American TV stations, and if there is no or not enough nation-wide live coverage of the event, it will be pretty difficult for Formula One to gain popularity in the US. And there is of course the circuit, it will be designed by German Hermann Tilke, but there is no design yet, and they have to design and build a circuit within 18 months, which seems nearly impossible.

And there is of course 'the money' question, it's unlikely Full Throttle Productions is able raise the estimated $200 million needed to build such a circuit themselves. And $200 million seems a bit optimistic, the new circuit in Korea cost $264 million to build. That's not all, they also have to pays the fees to FOM, and those could be as much as $20 million per year. Rumors say Texas wants to pay $25 million per year, but this has not been confirmed by the Texas government, and like other US states, Texas has a '$18 billion budget shortfall' as they like to call it. Hellmund says he has got the funding, Ecclestone is also adamant there are no financial problems, if that is correct, who are the investors? The precise location of the circuit is also unknown, and described as "to be located within the city limits of Austin."

The news about the return of Formula One was welcomed with enthusiasm and joy, but many doubts and even more questions have been raised about the feasibility of this project, and with the Donington disaster still in mind, it is way too early to cheer, hopefully all the cards will fall into the right place at the right time, and the American fans can once again enjoy a Formula One race on American soil.

Silverstone promises unique experience

The renewed Silverstone Grand Prix circuit, which was launched last April, will now offer spectators complete new viewing areas according to Silverstone's managing director Richard Phillips. The circuit has been completely renewed and a new 'Arena' section has been added to the circuit layout. The circuit has invested ?5 million in the changes right after it signed a 17-year contract to host the British Grand Prix after the Donington debacle. The pits- and paddock area will be completely rebuild as well, the new complex will be located between the Club and Abbey corners, the works have already started and will be finished in time for the race in 2011. The plans also include a new race-control building, a new media center and new hospitality and VIP spectator zones.

The circuit has also put a lot of effort in enhancing the Grand Prix experience for the spectators, and have constructed new elevated viewing banks and new grandstands, moved existing grandstands closer to the track to bring the fans closer to the roaring Formula One cars. According to the circuit the biggest improvement has been "the location of the Becketts Grandstand which has been raised and re-aligned giving spectators the chance to see [the] action twice per lap - as the cars/bikes come through Becketts and then again as they come up through the new Arena Complex." The old grandstand was replaced by a brand-new 7000-seat grandstand.

The grandstands along the main start and finish straight have also been raised and enlarged to offer a better point of view on the pit lane action. Phillips, who attended the Turkish Grand Prix last weekend to promote the 2010 British Grand Prix, already knows what the best vantage point at the new circuit is, "The best spectating point at the circuit now is probably Becketts. The grandstands have also been raised - so you can see up to Copse Corner, down to Hangar Straight, down to Abbey and a long way down the old national straight." Silverstone will also organize the by now almost traditional post-race concert on Sunday. For soccer fans they have something special in store; because the World Cup soccer final is also on July 11 (in Johannesburg, South Africa) the match will be shown on giant TV screens at 7.30pm.

Donington still hanging on

Donington Park will be restored to its former glory.
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While the managers of the 'Home of British Motorsport" are very happy with the new Silverstone circuit, the Donington Park circuit is still hanging on after the F1 disaster, and is trying to regain its place in British motorsport again. Parts of the circuit had already been demolished, including the famous Dunlop Bridge, but the still very popular Leicestershire circuit could be back in business as soon as September this year. Donington Park owner Kevin Wheatcroft has agreed to lease the circuit for 25 years to the Worcestershire-based Adroit Group. Wheatcroft about the new lease, "We are particularly pleased that after a long interview process we feel we have found the right people to move Donington forward into a new and exciting future. Adroit impressed us from the first time we met them and we have every confidence in their ability and vision for Donington."

Androit, a company which specializes in construction, infrastructure and energy, will invest about ?2 million in the circuit and their goal is to bring the circuit up to the standards of the FIA grade two license. Androit Managing Director David Broome wants the circuit to be restored to a "world class standard". He knows there is a lot of work to be done, "The entire site needs attention, whilst much of it will require a total overhaul. That is from the track itself to the medical center, hospitality suites, phone, radio and PA systems, IT systems, CCTV and general ground work." And added, "The racing world needs to see Donington put back on its feet, and that is exactly what we are going to do." If all goes according to plan, the renewed Donington Park circuit will host the Master car racing Series on September 3-4, and the British Touring Car Championship on September 5.

Korea still on schedule?

The inaugural Korean Grand Prix is planned for October 24, but there are now doubts whether the Yeongnam circuit, also designed by Tilke, will be ready in time. The works on the circuit had already started in 2009 and the major part of the construction works have already been carried out, the circuit would be completed in July 2010. Ecclestone has denied the rumors and said construction is still on schedule. Ecclestone recently spoke with Tilke, who also oversees the construction works, and said, "I'm absolutely sure [the circuit will be ready in time], no doubt at all."

Jean Todt wants a French Grand Prix.
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Ecclestone also hinted Korea is interested in participating in the Formula One Championship and is even thinking about setting up a Korean team. "I know that major Korean automakers are positive about creating Formula One teams, as the Formula One World Championship will be held in Korea, where the auto industry is highly developed, I am willing to provide much support and advice to Korea.", the 78-year old Ecclestone said during a press conference in Seoul. "I hope that the Formula One Grand Prix will deliver the world images of a Korea that is capable of building excellent cars. When I met with Korea's leading businessmen, they were very positive about participating in Formula One." he added.

But the rumors about the delays are very persistent and FIA President Frenchman Jean Todt recently revealed if the Korean circuit is not ready for its first race in 2010, he is interested in striking a last-minute deal to replace the Korean race with a French Grand Prix at Magny Cours in October this year. Currently there is no French Grand Prix on the calendar (the last French Grand Prix was in June 2008 and was won by Felipe Massa) but the French are very keen to get the race back on the calendar again. The possible return of French tyre manufacturer Michelin, and the possibility ART GP could be selected as the thirteenth Formula One team for the 2011 season, could also renew the interest of French sponsors. To be continued...

Join us again next week for the weekly "Formula One: On and off track".

See also: Formula One - On and Off track week 21

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About this article
Series General , Formula 1
Drivers Felipe Massa , Jean Todt , Bernie Ecclestone