F1 2012 schedule as published after Austin does deal
7 December 2011
The FIA World Motor Sport Council has confirmed that next year's F1 schedule remains unchanged, which means that Bernie Ecclestone's travelling circus will be appearing in both Bahrain and the United States in 2012.
The calendar issued several weeks ago contained several question marks, none greater than those hanging over Sakhir, which remains the subject of violence and alleged human rights abuses, and Austin, which recently saw construction workers down tools and Ecclestone demand a downpayment to secure its spot, but all appears well now that the schedule has been ratified. Should there be no further alterations thrust upon the governing body, and it remains to be seen what the teams' reaction to having to go to Bahrain will be, 2012 will become the first 20-race schedule in F1 history.
The Gulf region event, which is down as the third of the 2012 season, was initially postponed in 2011 after a public uprising was quashed by military intervention. With the change of government the uprising demanded not having happened, the threat of further protest and reprisals remained, leading to the eventual cancellation of the event - albeit not before it was reinstated at the end of the year.
As one season F1 journalist put it: 'Whoopee!! We're going back to Bahrain - last time I was there, so were the tanks, the fear and the shooting....'.
Mark Webber too is sceptical of the decision to return, having been among the few to officially speak out about the 2011 reinstatement.
"Time is a healer, and people move on eventually, but whether it's enough in this situation? I think we'll find out a bit more in the next few months," he told Britain's Daily Mail newspaper, "Obviously the Bahrainis have carried out a mutual inquest if you like, which is far, far, far ahead of talking about sporting events. It's obviously a very serious matter that went on, and potentially could be going on.
"I think you have to take a rain check on [next year's race], and that's why Bernie has so many races on the calendar - knowing that there could be a few, whether it's a commercial reason or a political reason in terms of Bahrain's case, that could make it a little bit vulnerable."
Austin, meanwhile, had been handed a deadline of today [Wednesday 7 December] to secure a new deal with Ecclestone and keep the US Grand Prix on the calendar while the impressive (on paper) Circuit of the Americas is constructed. Much of the initial earthworks were completed before relations broke down, but the project has now fallen behind schedule while financial wrangling took over.
With the state comptroller backtracking on advance payments from Texas' Special Events Fund, and chief financier Bobby Epstein apparently falling out with the man behind the race, Tavo Hellmund, both event and circuit appeared to be in jeopardy. Alternative contracts were passed back and forth between Epstein and Ecclestone before an agreement was reached, and the new deal is thought to involve Epstein fronting up the first year's sanctioning fee for the race, a sum believed to be somewhere between $25-30m, as well as providing assurances that future races will be properly financed as required by the original ten-year contract signed with Ecclestone earlier this year.
“Mr Ecclestone received his cheque today for the USGP," investor Red McCombs confirmed in a statement appearing in the Statesman newspaper, "We want to thank the fans supporting us, the local officials and businesses that have encouraged us, the state of Texas, Circuit of The Americas' staff and Bernie himself.”
Despite deals having also been signed to host both MotoGP and the Australian V8 Supercar series from 2013, the first race the organisers face is to get construction of the circuit and its facilities completed in time for the USGP to return to the F1 schedule in November next year. The future of both the MotoGP and V8 events, which were also agreed with Hellmund's Full Throttle Productions operation, remains uncertain.
“Our investors have believed all along that this project has tremendous benefit for our region, and provides a strong economic engine for the future," Epstein commented, "We remain committed to reaching our goal of being valuable community partners as we establish a platform for sports and entertainment. We're glad that Tavo's vision of bringing F1 to the people of Texas will become a reality.”
The statement added that 'engineering and construction teams working on the track will resume immediately,' and Webber is among those eagerly hoping that the work can be completed in time for the 2012 F1 event.
"I hope Austin goes ahead," he noted, "That track looks sensational. I've been shown the animations of the layout and it looks really, really special, so they've obviously done a good job there."