This week’s announcement that F1 will go to Austin, Texas in 2012 came as a huge surprise, even to the sport’s insiders. But promoter Tavo Hellmund had been in touch with Bernie Ecclestone for over two years while trying to put the deal together.
In Turkey on Thursday I spoke to Bernie about the race, and while he wasn’t giving too much away, what he did say was, as ever, fascinating…
Q: Is it fair to say that Tavo’s dad brought F1 back to Mexico in 1988?
“I think together, we did, yes!”
Q: And you’ve been friends ever since?
“Yes, we’ve kept in touch. And with Tavo, I’ve known him since he was born.”
Q: Did the Austin idea come up straight away after F1 finished with Indianapolis?
“No but we’ve been talking about it for a long time.”
Q: What was it that convinced you to go there?
“Well it’s a good place. Texas is a great place, it’s something that suits us.”
Q: But Dallas didn’t work in 1984…
“No, but it would have been nice. Dallas was good.”
Q: Had you been to Austin before this came up?
“No, I only went there because of this.”
Q: What were your impressions?
“Good, it’s a nice place. It’s got all the features that we want.”
Q: What is it about Tavo that convinces you that he can get the job done?
“Well I trust him.”
Q: But it was a difficult job even for Tony George…
“Yeah, but he’s got a different way of looking at things. He knows about F1.”
Q: What’s the biggest hurdle he’s going to face?
“I think he’s going to face hundreds of them. He’ll have to jump over them all as he gets there! Building the circuit, for a start is not going to be easy. But we’ll get it done, no fear. He’s got a lot of help from the government.”
Q: In that sense he’s got a head start compared with Tony George?
“Tony was unfortunate. It was the right and the wrong place. Right place for the type of racing they have, the wrong place for us.”
Q: I mean as far we know, he never got any government help, did he?
“No, not at all. I think everybody thought that Tony didn’t need any help.”
Q: Even in Texas finding $200m to build a circuit isn’t easy…
“He’s done it, otherwise he wouldn’t embark on it.”
Q: And a permanent track is the way to go?
“This sort of facility [Istanbul]. It’s going to look good.”
Q: It’s a better bet that a street race?
“Yes sure, I think we’ve got enough street races now.”
Q: Is it fair to say that street races like Phoenix were not the best way for the American public to see F1?
“I don’t know what the American public want to see in motor sport. I think they’ve seen too much oval racing, so I hope we can wean them off that!”
Q: Do you think he can get a crowd?
“Yes sure. Dallas was good, it was full up.”
Q: In somewhere like Vegas you were always going to get people coming from all over the world. Austin’s not really got the same appeal…
“The difference is that Austin will have a track, and Vegas didn’t have one…”