Texas state capital Austin will host Formula One when it returns to the United States in 2012 but Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) still believes it is the “right place” for the motorsport series.
Formula One commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone announced on Tuesday that a 10-year deal had been agreed to host races in Austin, the 15th largest city in the United States.
While the decision to bring the sport back to the United States came as no surprise to Indy car teams, officials and fans as they descended on the famed Brickyard for Sunday’s 94th Indy 500, the choice of Austin did raise more than a few eyebrows.
“We’re proud that we had among the largest crowds in Formula One then and now,” said IMS spokesman Fred Nation.
“Certainly Indianapolis is the right place for Formula One in the United Sates and if and when they express an interest here again, which could happen, we’re ready to talk if we can find a business arrangement that makes sense for both parties.
“That has been difficult in the past.”
The United States last hosted a Formula One race at Indianapolis in 2007, a grand prix won by McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton.
Since that deal ended, Ecclestone had been seeking an alternative venue with teams, car manufacturers and sponsors all keen to return to the United States.
“It’s not a surprise that Formula One is returning to the United States because Mr. Ecclestone made it clear because of the interest teams sponsors and manufacturers to be back in the world’s largest market,” said Nation.
“That Formula One expressed any interest Austin was a surprise. It was a surprise to us. Austin is not particularly known as an auto racing market.”
Since Sebring hosted the first U.S. Formula One in 1959 the event has never really found a permanent home.
Numerous other U.S. circuits have hosted races over the years including Las Vegas, Detroit, Watkins Glen, Long Beach, Phoenix and Dallas in 1984 on a temporary street course.
Indianapolis hosted the race from 2002 to 2007 but the relationship between IMS and Ecclestone always appeared strained.
Critics claimed the American mid-west lacked the sophistication and amenities normally associated with the F1 circus and Ecclestone was often at odds with Speedway officials over what he believed was a lack of promotion and cooperation.
The Brickyard was also the scene of one of the biggest Formula One fiascos when seven teams withdrew from the race in 2005 over concerns about the reliability of Michelin tyres leaving only six cars to run the race.
American Formula One champion Mario Andretti said the 10-year deal with Austin would provide the stability the sport needs in the United States.
“Awesome, it couldn’t happen quick enough,” Andretti told Reuters. “It’s about time something has been done about it.
“I always felt it was a travesty that we (United States) did not have a grand prix. What we need is stability.
“I think the strength of the fan base (here) is totally underestimated for Formula One.”
(Additional reporting by Lewis Franck; Editing by Peter Rutherford; To query or comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org)