The recent history of the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) is one of achievement, investment, political infighting and state-funded race sanctioning. The cauldron was a dicey mix but in the end, COTA managed to create a purpose-built circuit with FIA grade level A in order to host Formula 1 or any form of motorsport sanctioned by the FIA.
Camps were divided with pro-COTA and pro-Tavo Hellmund groups as the entities parted ways. One dreamed a dream, brought the F1 race to Texas and the others financed the entire operation. In the end, Hellmund left to focus on his next project which was bringing the Mexican Grand Prix back and bring it he did with over 335,000 people in attendance throughout the weekend.
The sniping and back-biting left me cold as people seemed to consistently be heaping scorn on the owners of COTA and while there may be several reasons they felt the owners deserved it, I still maintain that castigating the circuit and owners is only hurting our ability to host the USGP. I have no knife in the politics of COTA or Hellmund but I am a F1 fan and do not wish to see the race leave Austin or the US for that matter. Unfortunately the State of Texas may be the final determining factor as the Statesman reports:
“Economic development officials in Gov. Greg Abbott’s office are dramatically cutting the state’s annual contribution to Austin’s Formula One race, a move race and track officials said imperils the event’s future.
Officials with the governor’s office and Circuit of the Americas confirmed that the state’s payment to support the 2015 race would drop by more than 20 percent from previous years. The state had contributed about $25 million in 2012, 2013 and 2014; this year the amount will be closer to $19.5 million.”
It doesn’t look good with F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone saying that if the yearly amount has changed, it’s going to be difficult to continue in Austin. Circuit chief Bobby Epstein said, “I think we’re screwed”.
What a sad narrative for such a great track and the fact that the state is now reducing the amount which can only lead to litigation over what was promised back in 2011. There has been a continual assault on the Major Events Trust Fund being used for the F1 race each year and auditors have continually questioned the reports showing how much economic impact the race has for Austin. In short, continually pulling at the threads.
The change is due to a new formula the state is using to determine how much they are willing to distribute to COTA for the race. It was announced just prior to the 2015 race and Epstein said it was too late to cancel the race but given the water-logged disaster the weekend turned out to be, perhaps he wishes he had.
Can COTA still field a race with a shortfall of $5.5 million? Is there a way to regain the loss in state funding? Some believe that ultimately the only way COTA can survive now is to be sold at a loss and hope the new owners can find an answer to the track economics issue.
As a fan, I am disheartened by all the negativity that was a continuous narrative against COTA and in many ways, those voices are in combination with other mistakes made, should F1 not return in 2016. I have one goal, to see F1 race in America and it pains to say that with so many new races coming on the horizon, COTA may be losing the USGP which will once again make a departure from Formula 1. Sad.
Hat Tip: The Statesman