The future of the US GP in Austin should become clearer this week, as Bernie Ecclestone has set a deadline of Wednesday for COTA to conclude its deal to run the race.
Such an eventuality seems unlikely given that COTA doesn’t like the new contract that Ecclestone has offered (after the original held by Tavo Hellmund was cancelled), and has returned its own version to the F1 boss – with a predictable response.
Ecclestone is not confident in COTA’s ability to pay for the race over the long term, especially after the $25m sanctioning fee promised by Texas State Comptroller Susan Combs in May 2010 has not been forthcoming.
This blog sat down with Bernie in Brazil for a chat about the situation.
Q: What’s the deadline for Austin?
“The 30th [of November].”
Q: So if the money’s in the bank by then?
“What’s more important than money in the bank is we want security for the future, so we’ve tried to help them with that. We want a letter of credit up front before every race.”
Q: So even if they get the first $25m you want the next few years guaranteed…
“We want to know that next time it’s going to happen again. We’re changing the calendar a lot to accommodate these people, and if suddenly they’re not there, we’re in trouble.”
Q: Is it fair to say that you wouldn’t have given them the deal without that $25m promised by the state?
“It’s not just the $25m, that’s a small part of it, it’s the whole package. Everybody else seems to be happy and comply. I think the problem is a simple one, they never had the money. It’s simple.”
Q: Tavo told you he had the state money, and you got a letter from Susan Combs promising you the state would pay…
“We don’t have to deal with… We deal with the promoter and that was Tavo, and it’s up to him to respect the contract. He didn’t, couldn’t, and we terminated the contract.”
Q: Was it purely that money wasn’t paid, or were there other things he didn’t do?
“Yeah, lots of things. I’ve spent more time with these people and these races in the States than anybody else. India’s come and gone and other places have come and gone, and we’re still messing around.”
Q: Normally you are dealing with governments, but while they can be a pain, they do get the job done…
“Absolutely. I expect people to do what they say they’re going to do, which is what I do.”
Q: Were you disappointed with Tavo? Obviously he wouldn’t have got in the door if you didn’t know him already.
“I was disappointed insofar as he had what he thought were partners that could finance the business and wouldn’t let him down. Really, they let him down and they’re trying to steal from him, get him out of it, and do the whole thing themselves.”
Q: Was he a bit out of his depth?
“He was a bit out of his depth in relying on trusting people.”
Q: Personally, you don’t have a problem with him now?
“With him, not at all, not in any shape or form.”
Q: Bobby Epstein is saying that when you cancelled Tavo’s contract, the one you offered COTA was different. Is that right?
“Correct. Different insofar as their deal with Tavo, knowing that they were going to be the people bankrolling him, and knowing what happened to them, we don’t feel that they are as reliable as they should be.”
Q: So you want the guarantees that you’re talking about?
“They have a contract, which if they want to sign it, they’re OK, and if they don’t, it’s OK as well.”
Q: They put out a release saying they sent a revised contract to you. It’s not normally your style to sign contracts people send back to you…
“They’re not in a position to do that. Well they are and they have, but we are not interested.”
Q: If it doesn’t happen, will you juggle other races around?
“It’s probably a bit late now. This what these people don’t understand, they’re sitting there on their own, thinking about their race, buying something that they can’t afford, thinking the world is going to change for them. Which it isn’t.”
Q: You could move Abu Dhabi for example, which is now back to back with India.
“We could do, we’ll have to have a look. But I think the India/Abu Dhabi back-to-back is good anyway, the teams like that.”
Q: What’s happening with Korea?
“We’re tidying up bits and pieces, trying to help them.”
Q: So that’s looking good for next year?
“Yeah, yeah. The trouble is they got rid of the guy who in my opinion they shouldn’t have got rid of. He knew what he was doing. They put somebody in who’s brand new, and brand new to motor sport as well, and has had to learn a little bit. He’s had a few surprises.”
Q: So would you say Korea is 95% or better or worse?
“Well, we have a contract with them, I hope it’s 100%. We’re just trying to help them.”
Q: You’ve said that you don’t have any problems with Bahrain, but it’s clear that there are still problems.
“If they’re prepared to put the race on, we’ll be there racing, for sure. Obviously something was wrong. But I’m not so sure if we’d have gone this year we would have had problems anyway. I was happy to go.”