Apart from the seemingly endless news about Bahrain, the past week has seen a flurry of news about the dispute between Tavo Hellmund, the driving force behind the United States Grand Prix in Texas, and his business partners Texan billionaire Red McCombs and financier Bobby Epstein. The three are locked in litigation and given the kind of claims being made it is hard to see how legal action could have been avoided.
Indeed, the situation is so tense that it is leading some to think that the litigation could hamper the chances of the race taking place as scheduled on 18th November at the Circuit of the Americas track in Austin. The US GP has not been on F1's calendar since 2007 so it could do without confusion over whether the race will take place this year. The truth is that the litigation is not designed to put the race in doubt but it does mean that reports about it are taking up valuable column-inches which could instead be devoted to promotion about what will be on offer for F1 fans visiting Austin. However, help is on hand to anyone arriving in Austin who isn't clued up on the city.
Anne and Andy Fish, two F1-loving business executives from Austin have founded a website called Formula Austin which acts like a local travel and entertainment concierge. The website promotes the different entertainment opportunities in Austin and has arranged tours and packages specifically for race fans who will be in the city over the F1 weekend. Austin is renowned for its arts scene and is home to many famous festivals including the film and music conference SXSW. Formula Austin has selected dining, shopping, music and sports offerings which seem to be carefully aimed at fans from outside the US.
It gives a taste of traditionally Texan experiences as well as high level sports events. They range from an opportunity to learn how to become a roping cowboy and entry to a concert featuring legendary Texan crooner Willie Nelson to a place on a cycling trip with six-time Tour de France veteran Kevin Livingston. "There is so much to do in Austin and central Texas that it's difficult to narrow the experiences to just three
days," says Anne Fish who raced her own Porsche in various club races in Wyoming and Utah.
Although the website is aimed at fans, F1's corporate hospitality planners may actually be most interested in it. Even F1's smaller sponsors invite around 10 executives from client companies to each race and they are able to bring a spouse or partner. The schedule of what they do over the race weekend is either planned by the sponsor's own hospitality team or by an outside agency if it doesn't have dedicated staff in-house.
"We like to reflect the cultural experience in our programmes," says one F1 hospitality manager. A typical F1 weekend for sponsor guests begins with an informal welcome drink and dinner on Friday evening. On Saturday, guests are given the option of attending qualifying, taking part in an alternative activity, such as visiting an area of local cultural interest or spending the afternoon in a spa, or both. Then, on Saturday evening all guests are invited to attend a slightly more formal dinner, with all hosts attending. On Sunday the guests travel to the circuit and usually watch the race from F1's corporate hospitality area the Paddock Club.
The sponsorship manager explains that "the location of the race affects decisions made about certain parts of the weekend schedule, for example the alternative programme." This is where the Formula Austin website could come in handy and it is well timed as the sponsorship manager adds that although "hotels and vehicle requirements for all races attended will be booked during the winter off-season period, other arrangements, such as restaurant bookings and additional local activities, will be booked approximately three to four months before the relevant race weekend."
With the US GP seven months away, the hospitality planners have plenty of time to schedule events for guests at the race. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the US GP litigation as it is likely to take a lot longer than that to clear up.