The buzz started early today here in the States due to the nine hours advance from where the F1 folks are gathered around The Castle this weekend in Baku, Azerbaijan for their event. Singapore had announced it was cancelling its date due to, what else, the COVID Cooties and the resultant challenges on multiple levels. That, coupled with similar problems for the Australian GP might leave Formula 1 with only 18 events on its 2021 calendar.
So what to do? Perhaps only in mid-winter baseball hot stove conversations are more possibilities, rumors, speculations, opinions and SWAG offered than they are in motor racing. Today’s news didn’t disappoint.
Since its acquisition of F1, it’s no secret that Liberty Media has a huge gap in its portfolio: North America. If you were to lay a map over Europe, you could easily find 8-9 F1 events that are for contestation within those boundaries. F1 conducts one race per country, unless you’re Italy, in which case, well, you’re special. A second US race would be a perfect addition to pick up the slack created by the absence of Singapore. They’ve wanted a second race here for a while and it’s no secret that Miami is on the way, most likely in ’23.
But where to stage such an event, especially on as short a timetable as we have to fill the fall gap. F1 will visit Circuit of the Americas in Austin, TX 22-24 October. One option would be to double up on the COTA. Japan is 8-10 October and Mexico 29-21 October. Where do you put a second US race? Singapore was on the schedule for the first weekend in October. Taking that date would necessitate a Russia to Wisconsin to Japan to Texas to Mexico logistical mambo.
So let me save all the drama, especially about my all-time favorite track anywhere in the world: Road America. It ain’t gonna happen, folks. And for a multitude of reasons. I spoke with John Ewert, RA Comms Boss, late Friday afternoon about it. And btw, I’m very appreciative of him taking time to talk about it while neck deep in the June Sprints. Here are four main points from our discussion:
Here are four main points from our F1 discussion:
1. Franchise Fee: the estimated franchise fee paid to F1 by COTA was circa $40 million. Roughly half was from the State of Texas based on economic development. “There’s just no money for something like that,” said Ewert. “On this short notice, even if we could accommodate it on our schedule, it’s impossible at this time.”
2. The track: While my personal love affair with RA began in 1964 and hasn’t faded yet, it simply doesn’t have the features that are required by modern F1 cars to compete there. Runoff areas, garages, tons of other infrastructure that F1 demand simply doesn’t exist. Personally, I can’t think of a place that would impress the F1 jockeys more, but doing it is impossible. At least this year.
3. Scheduling: As noted above, where do you place the race? I know Wisconsin in October can be stunningly beautiful, it can also be a beast, and snow isn’t impossible. Snow??? At least that’d keep the Pirelli folks with a new tire to feature.
4. Local logistics: From my days on the Indy Car circuit, I know personally what a giant bottle of Advil booking hotels can be, even a year in advance. Clearing out the thousands of room nights that’d be required for teams, much less fans, would be a nightmare. The room nights don’t exist.
So what’s the alternative?
Indy. Everything exists sans the exorbitant franchise fee, which–if there’s anyone else on earth who could raise it, it’s the current own, Roger Penske–could be raised. Penske has the kind of schwing to make things like this happen, even as IMS and the country emerge from 18 horrific months of pandemic impact. By then, the limitations on crowd size would be lifted, but remember that an Indy F1 race has nowhere near the drawing power of the 500 in May, nor do the grandstands surround the entire course as is now the case for the 500.
Indy is also substantially south of Elkhart Lake at 43.75 deg north lat, and Indy at 39.77 north. For those without a Little Orphan Annie decoder, that’s roughly 350 miles, enough to be of significance to weather geeks. Hotels? Check. Garages? Check. F1 track license? Check. Historic significance? Check. Fans? Ummmmm… kinda check, but it’s more about TV than anything else, so no biggie. Even 100,000 fans at $100 ea is only $10 million gross. Sure, there are other sponsorship opportunities, but it’s late in the year and most corporate budgets are already fully committed.
Suffice it to sat it’d be a tough putt even if they started tomorrow. Having said that, if there’s anyone who could do it, it’s Team Penske.
Lauren Fix is a nationally recognized automotive expert, media guest, journalist, author, keynote speaker and television host. A trusted automotive expert, Lauren provides an insider’s perspective on a wide range of automotive topics, energy and safety issues for both the auto industry and consumers. Her analysis is honest and straightforward.
Follow Lauren on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram