AUSTIN, TEXAS – The taxpayer subsidized Austin Formula 1 track that is still under construction may be in for another setback.
F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone is reported to have said that he believes there are “issues” within the Texas group that is organizing the 2012 race and that the Austin race may be delayed until 2013. Ecclestone also said if the Austin race is delayed, “it would not be a devastating thing.”
Uh, oh. That’s not good for Austin or Texas taxpayers.
Construction of the Circuit of the Americas track has been setback by problems with building contractors. At one point over the summer construction was stopped.
Austin Formula 1 also took an unexpected slap to the face last week at the hands of Ecclestone. That’s when Austin learned it is not going to be the exclusive Formula 1 race in the U.S.
Ecclestone announced that a deal had been reached to race next year in New Jersey along the shores of the Hudson River. The race will be televised with the island of Manhattan as a backdrop. Ecclestone and F1 have long wanted to crack the U.S. market and now they have a race in the nation’s number one market.
That news stunned Texas F1 promoters who had been promised that the Circuit of the Americas in Austin would herald F1′s triumphant return to racing in the U.S.
Even more disconcerting is the fact that Austin’s F1 race is being subsidized with Texan’s taxpayer dollars. Some $250 million taxpayer dollars.
New Jersey taxpayers won’t pay a dime for their race. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stuck it to Texans by making a point to say that his state had secured the race without making taxpayers open their wallets.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who supports the Austin F1 taxpayer subsidy, can’t say the same. Oddly, Perry’s presidential campaign has escaped any serious questioning over the wisdom of using taxpayer money for auto racing.
The use of taxpayer money for Formula One racing in Texas has been a very contentious and controversial issue. The fact that New Jersey taxpayers are paying nothing is only going to add fuel to the fire.
The state comptroller in Texas is going to cut checks to F1 for $250 million for the rights to host races for 10 years. Austin and Travis County taxpayers have been put on the hook for another $4 million.
Now there is talk that Texas may try to get out of the deal. Texas may argue that it was supposed to be the exclusive U.S. F1 race. F1 says it only has the exclusive rights to a Texas F1 race.
The bigger question for Texas and New Jersey is F1′s viability in the U.S. F1 has spent 30 years trying to get Americans interested in their racing series and have they have failed each time. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosted F1 races from 2000-2007. The races were dropped in 2007 because promoters failed to sell enough tickets and more importantly, it could never garner enough interest to strike a lucrative TV deal. It simply didn’t generate enough revenue.
Like professional soccer, F1 is a niche sport in the U.S.
However, the New Jersey does include a TV deal. The Austin race does not.
But if F1 couldn’t succeed in Indianapolis, the Mecca of American motorsports, how could it succeed in Austin or New York and New Jersey? That’s a question many who oppose the deal have long asked.
With no track record of success, F1 in Austin is clearly a taxpayer subsidized leap of faith.