Formula One is coming to Texas. You may have already heard that after some commercial tussle, the US Grand Prix has found it’s new home at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, with the signing of a ten-year agreement last December between COTA owners and the Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone. Although F1 has never quite captured the place in the hearts of Americans that it has with people elsewhere, it is nonetheless one of the most popular and well supported forms of motorsports in the world, with races not only in Europe, but throughout Asia and the rest of the Americas.
OK, I know all the NASCAR devotees out there are probably issuing a collective sigh of “big deal”, but let’s just agree that while they are different forms of motorsports,
The Grand Prix in The States
The last Grand Prix race held in the US was in 2007, when it was held on a road circuit built inside the oval of the Indianapolis speedway track. Since then, F1 has been absent from our shores. Steve Sexton, President of COTA, was quoted in USA Today as saying that “Formula one is a strong brand and Mr. Ecclestone negotiates accordingly.” So initially at least; Austin might seem an unlikely venue for an operator like Ecclestone to select to host a Grand Prix event. However, with a metro-area population of more than 1.5 million people, and with Houston, Dallas and San Antonio under three hours away, there should be an ample number of local spectators willing to take the trip to the circuit. Added to that, the decision by the COTA team to invest over $300 million in a purpose built track and facilities no doubt played a major part in bringing the F1 circus to town.
Still under construction, the new purpose built track will consist of a 3.4 mile (5.5 kilometers) circuit suitable for most motorsports and state of the art race facilities for the teams. Like almost all such developments, COTA cannot rely exclusively on revenue from spectators, so additionally there will be a fully equipped medical facility and space for education, business, and entertainment purposes. These will include a conference center, executive meeting rooms, a banqueting hall, and an outdoor music venue. There are also plans to build a plaza event center and tower, and to develop track related activities such as a drivers club, driving experience business, and separate Kart track.
That’s quite a sizable investment. Skeptics will ask if it’s a worthwhile investment, but it’s quite certain that the people at COTA have done their figures. They will be well aware that the average global television audience for an F1 race is in excess of 600 million people, almost twice the current population of the United States, and so financially, the figures should stack up. It will also provide a boost to the economy of Austin in particular, and Texas more widely. An Ernst and Young Report commissioned by the state of Victoria to assess the impact of the 2011 Australian F1 Grand Prix found that the total impact of hosting the event was AUS $42 million, with AUS $15.5 million of that sum coming from overseas. They asserted that if the Grand Prix had been held in another country, the economy would have been poorer to the tune of AUS $25.4 million. They also concluded that the likelihood of overseas spectators returning to visit the state again was 89.1%, and 93.8% would recommend it as a destination to friends and family.
Bringing New Business to Texas
Business wise, it’s a complete “no brainer”; so much so that New Jersey will be hosting a second Grand Prix in the US from 2013 onwards. Yes, but what about the sport I hear you ask. The usual complaint about F1 is that you sit for several hours watching the cars go past your particular spot every few minutes, and that very little ever happens. Well, aficionados would say that sometimes a race is more akin to a game of chess than an out and out speed fest, and would tell you that in recent years, there have been changes made to make the sport less reliant on technology. The FIA, the governing body for the sport, is introducing more changes next season that should help inject more excitement. Some are purely technical, but others such as limiting the race to four hours in total regardless of stoppages, and changes to the restart procedures, should give a greater sense of urgency amongst drivers get to the front. It may be well worth checking out if they’re right, and if you decide, put a note in your diary because the 2012 US Grand Prix will take place at the Circuit of the Americas on November 18th.