Money is all that stands in the way of a return for F1 to America in the near future, it has been asserted – but whilst Indianapolis is on paper the favourite to reprise its role as US Grand Prix host, it is rumoured that other circuits could similarly be keen to get in on the act.
Former Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) CEO Tony George and respected US marketing guru Zak Brown – founder and CEO of Indy-based Just Marketing International, a motorsport firm representing several prominent F1 sponsors – travelled to the recent Chinese Grand Prix to hold lengthy discussions with the sport's commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone and potential backers, with a view to getting a race that last ran three years ago re-instated on the calendar.
Following eight outings at Indy from 2000 to 2007, the US Grand Prix was dropped from the schedule when George and Ecclestone proved unable to come to financial terms. However, moves to take the sport back across the Pond appear to have accelerated up a gear of late, and whilst George stepped down from the helm of the celebrated 'Brickyard' last summer, the 50-year-old is understood still to have Ecclestone's ear as a result of the pair's long friendship – and therefore is likely to play a significant role in attempting to get the race back on-track.
Many of the top flight's teams and corporate sponsors have repeatedly spoken up for the importance of racing in what is beyond doubt the world's largest automotive market, and Brown's motion is for all concerned parties – competitors, backers, television partners and Ecclestone's Formula One Management (FOM) company – to contribute towards raising the necessary funding for the grand prix to once again take place, ostensibly from 2012.
“The questions for any Formula 1 race are 'Where do you have it and how do you raise the money?'” he told local newspaper the Indianapolis Star
. “Indy's got the venue part solved – everyone wants it, there's no arm-twisting. It's just getting all the pieces to come together. If you can solve the finances, you could open the gates tomorrow and have a race. It's not a lot of money to come up with.”
“Would Tony George love to broker a deal to bring back a US Grand Prix? Sure,” he added in an interview with the Indianapolis Business Journal
. “Tony has a lot of contacts in motorsport, and he knows how to put on a US Grand Prix. I think if there's a role for Tony in trying to bring Formula 1 back to the US, he'd be willing to help. Tony and Bernie have a very good relationship, and Tony has a lot of interest in seeing F1 return to the US. It would only increase the spotlight on the sport of racing, and that's good for the Indy Racing League [too].”
“Certainly, a Formula 1 race would be a high-profile event that could boost our region on a number of levels,” agreed Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association CEO Don Welsh. “The international draw is very appealing.”
The most obvious alternative to Indy at present would appear to be New York, with Ecclestone having made no secret of his desire to see F1 cars tearing around the streets of the iconic 'Big Apple', whilst San Francisco, Las Vegas and Miami have also been mooted as potential venues, with suggestions even of having two
US-based grands prix in the future. Sebring, Riverside, Watkins Glen – for two decades from 1961 to 1980 – Long Beach, Vegas, Detroit, Dallas and Phoenix have also all staged the race in the past, with varying levels of popularity and success.
Current IMS and Indy Racing League CEO Jeff Belskus – who took over from George last July – confirmed that the Speedway is interested in hosting F1 again, provided
it is under acceptable financial conditions, which would likely require Ecclestone to lower his race-hosting fee for the event, something the British billionaire is famously averse to doing.