Only days after Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone hinted that there may be trouble with preparations for the 2012 US Grand Prix, work has ground to a halt at the Circuit of The Americas track in Austin, Texas.
Ecclestone responded cryptically when quizzed over progress at the circuit,
Austin? I wouldn't want to put my money down that that will happen. I hope it will and we are doing our best to make it happen, but I wouldn't want to say yes.
The problem is seemingly a simple one to resolve. The contract to hold the US Grand Prix has been made with a promotions company, Full Throttle Productions, on the understanding that it will be held in Austin.
The property developer has commenced construction on the circuit based on the same understanding that the race would be held there.
The problem is that the developer and the promoter haven’t actually sat down to nut out the deal and now the developers have refused to continue construction until a contract is in place.
While this is a seemingly simple contract negotiation, the state has now weighed in saying that the first of ten, annual $25 million payments would now not be paid until after the first race at the circuit had been completed.
And what was behind the change of heart?
Ecclestone’s decision to sign off on the Grand Prix of America in New Jersey, that’s what.
It seems that Texas state comptroller Susan Combs sees the New Jersey race as a threat to the Texas effort. Ecclestone has managed to throw gas on a smoldering fire, rather than make the effort to help resolve things.
A cynic might assume that this was Ecclestone’s plan all along, to precipitate some action between the parties and deliver an outcome for F1. Ecclestone knows that either way he will have a race in the US, whether it’s 2012 or 2013 is irrelevant.
A bigger cynic might even suggest that given that it’s another Herman Tilke track, they could just change the flags at any one of his other cookie-cutter creations around the world and no one would be any wiser.
Should next year’s USGP fall over, Ecclestone still has Turkey that is being cut to make way for the Austin race. The French are also keen to reinstate their race.
That’s the tremendous position of power that Ecclestone is in. There are more willing participants than spots available on the calendar so he can be as ruthless and mercenary as he likes.
And there’s little doubt that he likes it a lot.