Whilst the inaugural United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas was adjudged a success on almost every front, one niggling issue prevented it from grabbing even the national motorsport headlines.
With F1 not being a major player on the American motorsport scene, scheduling its return after five years up against NASCAR's finale at Homestead was a definite faux pas
, but the planners did not appear to have learned from their mistake, as the 2013 race currently looks set to repeat it.
Setting the F1 calendar is not necessarily an easy task and, with a second US race originally planned for New Jersey next year, there was little possibility of moving Austin from its end-of-season slot. With the traditional Thanksgiving weekend being something of a no-no when it comes to scheduling an F1 event and a packed 20-race campaign to shoehorn into nine months, whilst taking into account the cost of shipping equipment and personnel around the globe, it is easy to see how FOM came up with the date it did for the USGP.
However, another, previously unforeseen, opponent may now help to convince the organisers to seek an alternative slot.
According to the local American-Statesman
newspaper, the University of Texas has expressed concerns about the grand prix clashing with its football programme. College football is as popular as the pro game, and can attract crowds approaching 100,000, particularly for match-ups involving the best teams.
When the Big 12 league released UT's schedule on Tuesday, it was clear where the concerns came from as the Longhorns are due to host Oklahoma State on the same day as qualifying is taking place at the Circuit of the Americas.
“It would not be a good thing for Austin [to have football and F1 on the same weekend],” UT athletic director DeLoss Dodds - who has previously labelled the clash as 'a disaster', “The Big 12 was working under the assumption that it's tentative.”
While the grand prix instantly became the biggest sporting event ever seen in Austin - with 265,000 fans attending over the weekend and 117,000 alone for Sunday's race – college football is a long-standing institution and may yet win out in the scheduling debate, with the city not having enough hotel rooms to cater for both sports, and restaurants, bars, rental cars and shuttle buses also expected to feel the strain, albeit not in the wallet. Room rates spiralled for the grand prix, far exceeding what football fans are used to paying for a weekend in Austin, and 2013 price lists are already reflecting the sport's return.
“We're going to do everything in our power to make it a 2:30 game, so our fans can get in and out without having to stay in a hotel,” UT deputy athletic director Butch Worley said, “We'd do all we could to make that happen. The Big 12 understands the issue.”
The cancellation of the New Jersey race could yet allow an exit strategy for F1, although moving the Austin race into a double-header with Montreal would put the US event into the hottest part of the year – something it was trying to avoid when requesting an end-of-season slot. The final F1 calendar won't be ratified until next month, and the FIA's senior US official Nick Craw has said that the governing body will also be considering the issue, whilst pointing out that it would need co-operation from the host circuit.
“We are aware of the UT date and are considering options to move away from it, [but] it's up to COTA,” he noted.
Big 12 associate commissioner Bob Burda admitted that he could not see the football schedule changing as it had already had to take into account a two-weekend music festival in Austin and needed to ensure parity for all teams in the league.