Brickyard best place for Formula 1, says Speedway

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

ANALYSIS – Stakes high for new Shanghai F1 deal

Seven years ago, Shanghai decided that it needed Formula One to bolster its standing in the world and spent vast sums of money to bring a race to town.

With that contract expiring, the shoe is now firmly on the other foot. Formula One — and the automakers and sponsors that make the sport such a huge business — cannot do without China, which overnight has become the world’s largest car market.

While both F1 and race organisers are confident there will be a Grand Prix in Shanghai next year, fierce negotiations in the coming months will pit the sport’s boss, used to getting his way, against an increasingly confident country, with billions of dollars of commercial interests caught between the two.

The Formula One circus hit Shanghai for the seventh time two weeks ago accompanied by a flurry of sponsors events and a thrilling race won by McLaren’s Jenson Button.

The huge losses made over the last seven years, however, had led to suggestions from Shanghai sports officials that the option to keep the race may not be taken up.

Formula One commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone confidently predicted the race would return next year and Leon Sun of race promoters Juss Events, while less bullish, concurred.

“It hasn’t been announced because there are still a few technical issues to be sorted out but we’re in good shape,” Sun told Reuters by telephone on Friday.

“It looks good at the moment. We’ve got until October this year to sort it out but I’m confident that we’ll have something before that.”


Although Formula One has no shortage of races — there will be a record 20 next year if the Indian Grand Prix gets off the ground — the race in China’s financial capital has importance well beyond the sporting arena.

“It is one of the most important from a business point of view, for your customers and your potential customers,” Norbert Haug, Mercedes motorsport vice-president, told Reuters.

“We sell more S-classes here than in any other country in the world. We produce C-classes here.”

McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh said it was not just about selling cars either.

“Being here is important not just to our road car companies but is important to all of our partners in Formula One,” he told Reuters.

“We’re here to create brand exposure and differentiation for the Vodafones, the Exxon Mobils, the Mercedes Benz. This is an important market, so Formula One must make sure that it continues to make a success of the Chinese Grand Prix.”

That success, however, has not always been evident in the grandstands of the stunning circuit, built at a cost of $350 million and capable of holding 200,000 spectators.

Although the official figures were not yet in, Sun said the 2010 raceday attendance had been up at around 85,000 with the three days of action attracting some 155,000.

Ecclestone put the blame for the empty seats squarely on the shoulders of Juss Events, and others in the paddock commented on the lack of obvious promotion for the event in downtown Shanghai.

“We are trying to build something,” Sun said. “Obviously, compared to races in Europe we still have a long way to go to build the market. We improve every year and I think Bernie appreciates and understands this.”


Stories of losses of $150 million a year would not have hurt Shanghai’s hand in their negotiations with Formula One, of course, but the sport’s desire to be in China would not override all other considerations, Haug said.

“The figures need to be right but we would love to have the grand prix here in the future and I think Bernie wants to have that as well. But certainly, China will not get the grand prix for nothing.”

Sun said Shanghai was also benefiting from the race and that focusing on the losses was simplistic.

“To have Formula One is not only a commercial deal, it’s also about the image of the country and the image of the city,” he said.

That requires a political will to sustain those losses, of course, and with the man behind the circuit’s construction now serving a prison sentence for corruption, some local commentators have said the race has become a liability. Sun disagreed.

“Any time a decision like this is made in China it’s not just the decision of one, it’s the decision of the whole city. We feel the great support of the government.”

While the race remains important to the teams, manufacturers, sponsors and the city, even enthusiastic fans like Luo Xiaoyu say that China does not really have a deep car culture yet.

“For wealthy Chinese having a good car is a kind of symbol,” said the bridge designer, who was attending his first grand prix.

“They may not really appreciate cars, but they definitely want to have a luxury car. They want to have at least one BMW or Mercedes, but it doesn’t mean they really like it.”

(Editing by John O’Brien;

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Schumacher raring to go

Michael Schumacher is raring to go racing again, and the rest of Formula One is just as keen to have him back.

One of four world champions on what promises to be the most competitive starting grid in years when the action starts in Bahrain on Sunday, the 41-year-old German has come out of retirement to test himself against a new crop of talent.

“I feel like a child looking forward to Christmas,” said the seven times champion.

“I can hardly wait for the season to get underway.”

It has all the makings of a classic clash but the former Red Baron will still have his work cut out to kick off his comeback with an immediate win for the ‘Silver Arrows’, the first Mercedes works team since 1955.

Sunday will be his first race since 2006 and first against hot-shot compatriot Sebastian Vettel and 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton, as well as a renewal of combat with old foes Fernando Alonso and new champion Jenson Button.

It will be Germany against Britain, young guns against an old master with plenty of other subplots written in. Commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone is already rubbing his hands in anticipation.

“I feel fresher than I have for many years,” added Schumacher, winner of a record 91 races and team-mate to compatriot Nico Rosberg, son of former champion Keke.

“When I retired from racing in 2006, my batteries were simply empty. Now they are totally recharged and I am ready for the challenge.”

Button bright

Schumacher won with Ferrari at Sakhir in 2004, and his lap record will stand the test of time now that the circuit has been lengthened since last year, but that will count for little now.

Button, who has joined Hamilton at McLaren in what is the sport’s first pairing of champions since Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna at the same team in 1989, has looked relaxed preseason with his move from title-winners Brawn (now Mercedes).

He also faces a big challenge in a team that has appeared moulded around Hamilton but he too is up for it.

“Change is difficult for all of us, but it’s also exciting,” he told reporters.

“I’ve spent so much time at the factory, more than I have in any of my previous years in racing. I’ve really got to know people, and it’s been really good.

“So I feel very at home after two months, which is crazy to say that, but I do, and I go to the first race ready to put in a good performance.”

Ferrari, with Spaniard Alonso eager to assume the starring role Schumacher once had and Brazilian Felipe Massa returning from his serious head injury, have looked strong in testing.

The Italian team, who had what amounts to a nightmare for them last season, have been sounding a cautious note however.

Seven of the drivers in the four top teams are race winners and all can consider themselves genuine championship contenders.

Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel, who came into the sport after Schumacher retired with the nickname ‘Baby Schumi’, is one of them after ending last year as overall runner-up. His team are also going for their fourth race win in a row.

The ban on refuelling adds an extra strategic dimension while new teams, including the revived Lotus marque, have brought new faces.

Among them is Brazilian Bruno Senna, nephew of the late triple champion Ayrton, who makes his debut with the Spanish HRT team along with Indian Karun Chandhok.

Both will have a baptism of fire in a car put together against a tight deadline and shipped to Bahrain without even the most basic of tests.

F1 teams to meet Mosley again on Friday

Formula One teams will meet FIA president Max Mosley on Friday with champions Ferrari and other manufacturers threatening to walk away from the sport at the end of the season.

The meeting, which team sources said would be on Renault team boss Flavio Briatore’s luxury yacht at the Monaco Grand Prix, will be the second in eight days between the teams and head of the governing International Automobile Federation to try to resolve the crisis.

Friday is a rest day for the Formula One teams ahead of Sunday’s race.

The teams, some of whom attempted to stage a walkout at the last meeting in London, face a May 29 deadline to sign up for the 2010 championship but Formula One’s commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone doubted many would do so.

“We’ll have to wait and see. I think the majority probably won’t put an entry in,” he told Reuters.

Toyota, champions Ferrari, Renault and the two Red Bull teams all say they cannot sign up for 2010 unless the regulations, which include an optional 40 million pound ($63.18 million) budget cap, are rewritten.

“There is a high probability that we won’t enter before the deadline,” Toyota motorsport president John Howett told Reuters.

“If nothing changes I don’t think that professionally it is possible to commit the company to do that. I can’t recommend that in my position.”


Although Mosley and Ecclestone have said they expect all teams to compete under the same regulations, the cap would give those teams accepting it greater technical freedom than others remaining on unrestricted budgets.

Ferrari say the budget cap and the sort of new entrants attracted by it would reduce Formula One, the pinnacle of motorsport, to the level of a junior series.

“If Formula One becomes Formula Three, we won’t race,” Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo said on Thursday.

The Italian glamour team failed to secure an injunction in a French court on Wednesday to stop the FIA introducing the changes.

Ecclestone said the situation worried him.

“We don’t want to lose Ferrari,” he said. “I hope it’s unlikely. I am concerned, I don’t want them leaving. I don’t think anybody does.”

Some of the team bosses, appearing at a news conference after practice, agreed.

“I think that all teams want to make sure that everybody remains in Formula One. I don’t think anybody wants to see a team depart from Formula One, Ferrari included,” said Force India’s Vijay Mallya.

BMW-Sauber’s Mario Theissen added: “I think we need to work out a solution. Formula One is a very strong brand, a very strong platform. The stakeholders are benefitting from it, so there is really no point in destroying that platform.”

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German state premier seeks talks with Ecclestone over Hockenheim

Hockenheim, Germany – A German state premier is to seek talks with Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone in an effort to safeguard the future of the Hockenheim Grand Prix, it was agreed Tuesday.

The Baden-Wuerttemberg economics ministry said it was agreed at a cabinet meeting that state premier Guenther Oettinger meet Ecclestone over the loss-making circuit.

The state urged Hockenheim’s regional council to shelve making any decision at a meeting Wednesday on the circuit’s future.

The cabinet recommended that the Rhineland-Palatinate state premier Kurt Beck as well as leading regional and local officials and representatives of carmakers Daimler and BMW take part in any meeting with Ecclestone.

According to a report in Tuesday’s Mannheimer Morgen daily, the state government could consider financial support for the circuit.

The city of Hockenheim has said it was only prepared to continue hosting the German Grand Prix if it received strong financial support as the circuit has a deficit running into millions of euros.

The regional council, which represents 21,000 inhabitants, owns 94 per cent of the Hockenheim Circuit company, and Hockenheim mayor Dieter Gummer has said it would only allow future F1 races there if it didn’t run at a loss.

Last year’s race registered a loss of 5.3 million euros (7.2 million dollars).

This year’s German GP takes place at the Nuerburgring but the proposed 2010 race at Hockenheim is expected to have a deficit of around six million euros. (dpa)

Big teams unhappy in wake of FIA’s proposal to cap budgets in 2010

London – There is a deep sense of unease among the larger Formula One teams following the proposal by motorsport’s ruling body FIA to introduce a budget cap in 2010 and have a winner takes all points system for the drivers’ championship this season.

At a meeting of its World Council in Paris Tuesday, FIA rejected the Formula One Team Association’s (FOTA) recommendations to increase the number of points for a win from 10 to 12 and instead plumped for a system where the driver with the most wins takes the title.

Perhaps even more controversially, FIA said it intended introducing a voluntary budget cap of 30-million pounds (42 million dollars) per team in 2010.

Although the cap is meant to be voluntary, under the new regulations teams that adhere to it will be granted complete freedom to design their cars and to use unrestricted engines.

Some in F1 believe the introduction of such a system could lead to the development of a two-tier F1, and possibly destroy the unprecedented degree of unity among teams in recent months.

“FOTA would like to express its disappointment and concern at the fact that these (decisions) have been taken in a unilateral manner,” Luca di Montezemolo, the president of Ferrari and chairman of FOTA said.

F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, meanwhile, said he believed that most teams, would be happy with the new deal.

“What team can afford not to accept the new proposal?” he said.

The new cap is most likely to hit the big spending teams like Ferrari and McLaren-Mercedes, a result that doesn’t seem to upset FIA president Max Mosley.

“The cars will be much less refined in detail, because teams will not be able to spend huge sums on minute advantages – for example, 1,200 dollars on a wheel nut which is only used once – but from the grandstand or on television they won’t look or sound any less ‘Formula One’ than the current, ultra-expensive cars,” he said.

Mosley is also confident the FIA will be able to prevent teams from taking advantage of any unforeseen loopholes.

“We will have a catch-all clause for the cost-capped teams enabling us to stop anything which goes against the spirit of the cost cap and allow us to rule definitively on any unforeseen problem,” he said (dpa)

Crisis sees F1 teams rally togethe

Crisis sees F1 teams rally togetheBarcelona – The global economic crisis and the resultant cost-cutting measures imposed on Formula One appears to have drawn the competing teams closer together as they began testing this week at the Circuit de Catalunya near Barcelona.

“It’s a unique moment in the history of Formula One,” said Ferrari and Formula One Teams Organisation (FOTA) boss Luca di Montezemolo.

FOTA, which represents the 10 teams in the sport, reached unanimous agreement last week on a series of proposals to help F1 survive the global financial crisis.

The proposals include a new points system, affordable engines, a ban on in-season testing and a limit on technological updates over the next two seasons.

McLaren-Mercedes team principal Martin Whitmarsh said it was an “enormous challenge” for the teams to overcome their differences and present a united front while BMW motorsport director Mario Theissen his Mercedes counterpart Norbert Haug praised the plans.

Motorsport’s ruling body FIA will decide on the proposals on March 17, just 12 days before the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 29.

The first consequence of the new togetherness between the teams is the continued existence of the former Honda F1 team, now known as Brawn GP.

“FOTA worked very hard to ensure they are here,” said Whitmarsh.

Mercedes jumped in to provide the necessary engines and driver Jenson Button promptly registered the fastest lap time in Monday morning testing.

A new Concorde Agreement, which regulates the agreements between F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone and the teams, rights holders and marketing partners, is also believed to be close to completion.

“All car manufacturers and teams are prepared to sign up to this Concorde Agreement until 2012,” said Di Montezomolo, who hopes to finish the deal before the start of the season. (dpa)