Bobby Epstein most likely realised the following when speaking following the 2015 US GP in Austin he stated, “To use a technical term, I think we’re screwed.” The co-owner of COTA was referring to the financial implications for the circuit following a hurricane swept F1 weekend in the Texas capital city. That said, the attendance held up well, just 6,000 down on 2014.
Yet behind the numbers, the reality would have been clear to those allocating tickets to the fans buying in advance. The Austin based Statesman publication reveals that just over 50,000 non-Texans attended the race, down from 75,000 in 2014 and 77,000 in 2013.
Texas offers subsidiary’s for events which attract ‘out of staters’ who of course bring revenue into the state treasurer’s coffers in forms of sales tax paid on items such as food, drink and hotel accommodation. COTA did a deal with the previous governor which would see them receive $25m a year from this fund which in effect plugged the back hole in the F1 weekend finances.
Prior to the race in Austin this year, the new administration had indicated they would be cutting the COTA subsidiary to $19.5m and given the latest one third fall in out of state race going fans, this amount will be surely cut again.
Race officials have attributed the fall in non-Texans attending the race on the weather and Mexican fans choosing to attend the nearby race in Mexico City, held the weekend after Austin. If the latter is the case, then Ecclestone has some responsibility for financial difficulties COTA now faces.
Indeed this is true, following McCombs and Epstein’s eviction of Tavo Hellmund from his part in the COTA deal agreed, Ecclestone tore up the contract he’d awarded to the trio for a Formula One US Grand Prix. Ecclestone explained his thinking at the time to Adam Cooper: “Knowing that they were going to be the people bankrolling him, and knowing what happened to them [and what they did to Tavo], we don’t feel that they are reliable as they should be”.
McCombs and Epstein were eventually offered a new 10 year deal, though crucially the greedy pair omitted to ensure the agreement included the clause preventing Ecclestone back to backing the F1 COTA event with another close rival. This was a deliberate act of payback by Ecclestone for the treatment of Tavo Hellmund, the son of his good friend Gustav.
Now the future of the only Formula One race in the USA is in serious jeopardy. The event is listed as provisional on the 2016 calendar, though as yet the hosting fee for 2015 has not been paid to FOM.
Further, Bernie’s pro-Putin/Anti-American rhetoric from last autumn appears to now have some meat on the bone, as the ‘second’ US Formula One race due for imminent announcement in November remains a mystery. Even were this event to transpire, it will probably no longer be the pipedream of a second race, but again the only US based F1 event for the foreseeable future.