Slim not financing Mexican Grand Prix says Ecclestone

25/02/2013
NEWS STORY

At the end of last year Pitpass proclaimed that "if ever there was an appropriate country in Asia to host a Formula One race it is Thailand." We went on to explain the reason for this which is that the majority owner of three-time champions Red Bull Racing happens to come from Thailand. If Thailand is the ideal location in Asia then there is no doubt that Mexico is the best place in Latin America. In fact, it may be the most sensible of any of the proposed destinations for new races and it looks like F1 is heading in that direction. According to an article in US magazine Autoweek by Pitpass' business editor Christian Sylt, F1's boss Bernie Ecclestone has revealed that he is in talks about bringing the Mexican Grand Prix back next year. The plan is well supported.

There is good reason why Mexico is probably the most logical location to host a new F1 race. Mexican driver Sergio Perez is one of the brightest new talents in F1 having only narrowly missed out on victory for Sauber in the Malaysian and Italian Grands Prix last year. Perez' chances of success have accelerated this year as he has joined McLaren whilst another Mexican, Esteban Gutierrez, has taken his place at Sauber. That's not all.

Perez and Gutierrez both made it to F1 by being bankrolled by Carlos Slim Domit, son of the world's richest man Carlos Slim. Slim Domit has more than just a casual interest in F1 since he also has a seat on the Senate, the decision-making body of the FIA. Sylt reveals that Slim Domit is one of three members of the 'dream team' behind the plan to being back the Mexican Grand Prix with the other two being Tavo Hellmund (pictured) and Mexican businessman Alejandro Soberon.

Hellmund is well-known in F1 circles for being the creator and mastermind of the Circuit of the Americas in Austin which last year hosted the US Grand Prix after a five year hiatus. Soberon is the chief executive of CIE Group which is a global powerhouse despite being relatively unknown in Europe. CIE is the world's third largest live entertainment company and its connection to F1 comes through it being the operator of Mexico City's Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez. F1 previously raced there in 1992 and the circuit needs a multi-million pound upgrade in order to do so again.

The Mexican Grand Prix was expected to return to the F1 calendar in 2006 at a street track just south of the international airport in the beach resort of Cancun. The race did not happen which raised questions about whether its talks with F1 were as advanced as was thought. Over the past six years there have been widespread rumours about when and where the race would be back but Ecclestone has remained quiet about them. Until now.

He revealed to Sylt that it is Mexico City, and not Cancun, which is in pole position to become the new home of the Mexican Grand Prix from next year.

"Mexico City is a better place to hold the race than Cancun. In more or less any city around the world you could ask people 'where is Mexico City?' and they would say Mexico. If you said to somebody where is Cancun they would say I don't know."

Ecclestone also cleared up the question over how close Cancun came to staging the Mexican Grand Prix. "We were going to do a race in Cancun. We had a contract but they couldn't get the permission they wanted," he says.

After the Grand Prix in 1992, international racing did not return to Mexico City until 2002 when a round of F1's US rival Champ Car was held at the track there. Champ Car team owner Gerald Forsythe went into partnership with CIE to rebuild the track which had become renowned for being bumpy. The Champ Car race was a big success and regularly drew crowds of more than 300,000 over the race weekend. Indeed, the high level of local interest in motor racing is another reason why the Mexican Grand Prix is back on F1's radar.

The Mexico City metropolitan area has a population of 21.2m, which makes it the biggest in the western hemisphere. It is understood that studies show an F1 race could bring it an annual economic benefit of £263.7m ($398.9m).

Ecclestone confirms that despite his connection to racing, Carlos Slim, who is worth an estimated £48bn ($72bn), will not be bankrolling the Mexican Grand Prix. "Everybody thinks that Carlos Slim is going to pay the bills for the race but I know he's not," says Ecclestone.

It would be most logical to pair the race with the US Grand Prix since Austin is one of the closest major cities to the border with Mexico. Organisers claimed that last year's US Grand Prix attracted a crowd of 265,499 over the race weekend. Ecclestone says "I should think that half the people that went to Austin were Mexican. There is absolutely a lot of potential in Mexico."

The US Grand Prix project suffered several setbacks after being announced in May 2010 and it was running in tandem with a plan to bring an F1 race to New York which ultimately failed to get the green light. Ecclestone expects that, like the US Grand Prix, the race in Mexico will go ahead.

"You would have never thought that the race in Austin was going to take place and you would have thought that New York would be the one that was going to happen. It turned out that Austin happened and New York didn't. Mexico is like Austin was in the end."

However, whilst the organisation of the Mexican Grand Prix seems to be well in hand, it may not be so straightforward to fit it on to the calendar. There were 20 races last year with Russia and New Jersey set to join in 2014. The number of races is restricted to 20 under Ecclestone's commercial agreements with the teams and this is no accident. The teams object to adding more races due to increased transport costs and the longer time staff have to spend away from their families.

The commercial agreements refer to what are known as Constructors' Championship Bonus (CCB) teams and, as Pitpass recently revealed their consent of a majority of them teams is required if there are more than 20 races in a season or more than 17 with over 60% held outside Europe, the US or Canada. So unless the teams agree to increase the limit on the number of races, the introduction of the Mexican Grand Prix is likely to come at the expense of a race from F1's European heartland. Given Mexico's historic connection to F1 this is one loss which may well be worth taking.

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Published: 25/02/2013
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