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Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone has revealed how close the United States Grand Prix came to not taking place this year.
The Grand Prix, which will be held on 18 November in Austin, was announced in May 2010 when Ecclestone revealed that he had signed a 10-year race contract to 2021 with local company Full Throttle Productions, owned by veteran promoter Tavo Hellmund. However late last year it became clear that the hosting fee had not been paid and the contracts with Full Throttle were terminated. It ultimately led to a lawsuit by Hellmund against his business partners, including billionaire Red McCombs and Bobby Epstein, but this was settled last month. McCombs and Epstein own the majority of the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) track where the Grand Prix is taking place and after they paid Ecclestone in December last year the race was back on. It was never dropped from the FIA's calendar, since that is only published several times a year, but Ecclestone has revealed that the selection of Austin was terminated.
Pitpass' business editor Christian Sylt has received a letter (pdf) dated 10 July, from Ecclestone to Wayne Hollingsworth, director of Austin's Circuit Events Local Organizing Committee, which states that "beginning in mid-2011, it became apparent that Full Throttle was having difficulty meeting its obligations, ultimately resulting in the termination of the Austin selection and the related contracts."
The letter doesn't just confirm the rumours that building work on the 1,300 acre site in Austin slowed down late last year, it states that "construction on the COTA facility was stopped in November 2011. At that time, although competition for an FIA Formula One World Championship was substantial and we had the opportunity to give Austin's place on the 2012 calendar to another location, as the issues that caused FOML [Formula One Management limited] to revoke Austin's previous selection were resolved, we evaluated Circuit Events Local Organizing Committee's application and again selected Austin to stage a round of the Championship. We then entered into new contracts for the promotion of the event with COTA."
The letter also reveals the huge amount of time it took to secure the contract to host the race. Ecclestone says that "as early as 2007, I began conferring with cities interested in becoming the site for the United States Grand Prix. Several US cities and locations demonstrated an interest in hosting the event and provided compelling proposals to that effect...In 2010, Full Throttle Productions LP submitted an applications to host the United States Grand Prix at a new facility to be constructed near the City of Austin. After carefully weighing Austin's suitability against that of the other interested cities, in the United States and elsewhere, FOML [Formula One Management limited] selected Austin as the location for the United States Grand Prix."
Thankfully it didn't take years to reselect Austin the second time round otherwise the race really wouldn't be taking place this year. As Ecclestone states, this is perhaps the strongest endorsement that the right decision was made to host a Grand Prix in the city.
"The fact that Austin was selected, after a highly competitive selection process, to host a round of the FIA Formula One World Championship in the United States and then reselected in late 2011 as our chosen location for a round of the Championship says much about support for the event in the region and our view that Austin is a very desirable location." Roll on November.
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