U.S. GP promoter speaks: Track will make America proud


United States Grand Prix promoter Tavo Hellmund, the man behind the proposal to host a race around Austin, Texas, has spoken.

Fortunately, Autosport was there to take down his words. Were they important? Enlightening? Reassuring? You be the judge:

Q. At Silverstone you attended your first race since the announcement was made about the grand prix in Austin. How is progress going with the race?

Tavo Hellmund: Everything is great. The Tilke guys are there pretty much non-stop and I think that we are on track right now. All the permitting with the waste water has been done and a lot of people are wanting to know about the land and its location.

Although I feel that that is nobody’s business, I understand that we are going to have to release news about it soon, so we will do that. The design of the track is pretty much approved from us. The layout is awesome, better than I had hoped, and the FIA is going to be to get that submitted at the Circuit’s Commission.

OK, I’ve got to stop right there. I understand why he says it is no one’s business, but he cannot seriously think that people and fans are just going to sit back and let him pull everything together. That strikes me as a very Bernie Ecclestone way to approach things, and I’ll say very clearly: It’s wrong. The PR nightmare will make his head spin. He’s not operating in a vacuum or in a business sector that can survive without fans engaged in the project.

Plus there’s the whole taxpayers-on-the-hook aspect, so he is a bit accountable to the public. He might want to remember that.

Q. What can you tell us then about the layout? What sort of circuit will it be?

TH: It will be at least three miles long – and probably a bit longer. It is going to have a really fast section, which will have some pretty challenging corners. I am partial to a couple of sections that I’ve seen at Silverstone, so you could see those turn up too.

There is also going to be significant elevation – probably more than 100 feet of difference from top to bottom. There will be pretty views, and I think it will be a bit of a departure from the tracks that have been built recently for F1. So, in that regard, I am excited.

Americans will be proud of it – and it won’t be a ‘cookie cutter’ track. I think people in Texas will be proud of it as well.

Q. So what sort of characteristic will it have – what current track has a similar feel?

TH: What we did was take maybe seven or eight of our favourite things from other tracks – some of them that are no longer in play in F1, but three or four of them are. And we said we want this corner on this track, and this corner on this track.

I would say that, hopefully, people will view it as a throwback to some of the older, traditional tracks – although obviously with the added safety features and requirements that the FIA has. It will be a track that the drivers will walk through and think: “Man, I have to be on my best game today!”

Ah, the “e word” — elevation. I wonder if Herman Tilke knows that’s part of the deal?

Beyond that… I’m not sure I’m 100% a fan of mash-up tracks. Eau Rouge is Eau Rouge because it is at Spa, and its history, not simply because of its physical characteristics. I hope they don’t think they can capture such magic.

It’s like a Las Vegas recreation, or something. (Thinking of which, if there ever were a Las Vegas GP at a purpose-built track, that would be the place to combine Eau Rouge with Becketts with Parabolica. It would fit the aesthetic of Las Vegas perfectly.)

Q. I spoke to Bernie Ecclestone last week and he said that he was 100 per cent sure that the race was going to go ahead, even though the sceptics remain about getting the finances in place. What can you tell us about your funding situation?

TH: With all due respect, I think it is interesting – because it is nobody’s business what my funding is. I can tell you this – the group we have together is world class. Some of them are well known individuals who will probably never appear publicly – which is for a reason because their privacy and anonymity is part of the deal.

But, I can tell you that Mr. Ecclestone would not have embarked on a deal if he was not pleased with the financial package. And the state of Texas would not have done what they have done without that either. And I want to be clear about what Texas have done because there are a lot of misconceptions there. They are not subsidising anything – the state of Texas has basically passed legislation, just like they did for the Superbowl, that allows for the contribution of incremental sales tax revenue that is created by that event. So, some of the liberal media in Texas have been trying to take shots at that, but that [the subsidy claim] is a fabrication.

We are excited, because it puts Texas on a platform with the great global events – the Olympics, the Superbowl and the World Cup. They would have not been doing it either if they thought it was a bit wishy-washy.

I know I’m going to get raked over the coals for this, but… well, F1B’s an opinion site, right? A place to discuss things. So here goes:

Taking shots at the “liberal media” is among the weakest, lamest responses to criticism. All that says is, “They’ve pretty much got it right, how can I distract the public? Oh, right, I’ll go with the old ‘you can’t trust the liberal media’ tactic.”

I’m not an expert on the Austin American-Statesman, the local paper that has written mostly about this issue, and it very well could be a relatively liberal paper. But I seriously doubt that the Austin Business Journal is particularly liberal, and it has been on the story, too. Plus, while it is absolutely true that journalism draws people who generally would fall to the “left” side of the political spectrum (why? Because it is a low-paying job for the most part, without great benefits that has as its “saving grace” the notion that it allows a person to do some “good” or contribute to society. That said as a former journalist), the real “bias” in newsrooms is for a good, a compelling story. And if Hellmund is putting taxpayers at risk, that’s a good and legitimate story.

The liberal media canard is a pretty weak response. And it is not making me feel especially good about the prospects for this race, for its openness or engagement of fans.

(Now, I know I’ve raised vaguely political issues, but if and where we can keep the commentary on F1 and away from politics and the media, I’m sure we’d all be happy. Not that I’m unwilling to take criticism, but I hope any would focus on issues specific to the Austin track and coverage of it and not journalism and politics in general. OK, enough. Hopefully y’all get my point.)

Q. Can the F1 teams do anything to help you and help make the event a success?

TH: Yeah. I think so. Some of the teams I spoke to at the weekend, and talked to before this, understand the need for activation and traction in the United States. It is not something that is done in a week. We have a lot of really cool things planned, starting in January, so that for 18 months we are just feeding the beast.

I think we are going to get a lot of help from some of the teams, and especially those that have partners that are American-based or at least with an American presence. So I couldn’t ask for more.

OK, that sounds better. That’s the kind of build-up this race will need, and it is a build-up that also could help Formula 1 (and the teams and their sponsors) in America. But Hellmund can’t give with one hand and withhold with the other. He’s talking out of both sides of his mouth, I think.

And, no, I’m not expecting a full public accounting of his finances. But he needs to be more open than he’s sounding here.

At least he’s talking, though. Maybe all those Bernie’s looking at New York, Bernie’s looking at Chicaco, Bernie’s looking at Vegas rumblings lit a fire under him.

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