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Formula One United States Grand Prix

Friday at the 2014 USGP

Friday at the 2014 USGP

Internal Conflict at COTA

Late last night media reports throughout the Formula 1 industry were packed with news of Tavo Hellmund, Founding Partner of the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, taking legal action against COTA to regain his foothold there.

Tavo Hellmund reveals the newly named Circuit of The Americas F1 project with Red McCombs and Bobby Epstein on April 12, 2011.You may recall that in November 2011, Hellmund called a press conference where he established his position with COTA and voiced his frustrations with execution of the F1 contract outside of his control.  Things have been quiet since that announcement and Tavo has only been rumored to be procuring new investors, presumably for other track locations and not COTA.

Saturday's news has ignited a new controversy that's likely to create more distractions from the world class facility under construction just outside of Austin, Texas.  The details of the relationship between COTA and Hellmund have been discussed in more detail by the Austin American-Statesman, whose coverage has insight into this relationship before these troubles became public. 

Tavo states that he was due $18 million as part of a buyout agreement for his share of the project and the race contracts with Formula 1 and MotoGP.  As Tavo claimed in the press conference in November, that contract has not been executed and he is still legally the Chairman of the circuit, according to the lawsuit fillings.

Additional details are likely to emerge as the week progresses, but the project is not necessarily hindered by this announcement.  COTA reaffirms that construction is on schedule in the following statement we received today:

"This is just a latest step in a pattern of behavior. Mr. Hellmund uses negative press to try and create an advantage for himself at every turn.
The fact is, he has has been found to be in breach of contract by Formula 1 and he has not fulfilled his agreements with Circuit of The Americas. Our focus remains positive. We are creating the most incredible entertainment and racing venue in the world, construction is on schedule and seat license and suite sales are very strong."

-- Circuit of The Americas Management
This is not the first lawsuit or threat thereof, but it is likely to cause the most rubber-necking because of the parties involved. When building a project of this magnitude there are bound to be disagreements and setbacks. While it may be some time before we have a clear and concise understanding of the behind the scenes work to bring our inaugural race to fruition in November, we hope for an amicable solution to keep this dream alive and on track (pun intended).

Hold on to your seat licenses - while Tavo had no further comments for Autoweek, he did say he would have more to share "soon."  And, the suit "does not seek to halt the F1 race scheduled for November."

Turn 1: Austin's Zenith

From the temporary observation platform at the top of turn number one, looking back at the whole project. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. But the only word I can utter after yesterday's tour of Circuit of The Americas is: WOW.

Not having been inside the construction zone since April, I was semi-prepared for a different perspective. The last video we shot in Elroy was back in October, but it was outside the fence; we've been keeping up with the photos floating around in cyberspace like vultures circling their prey, but nothing could prepare me for this.

Paddock Building view on the way up to turn number one.From the open-aired comfort of our off-roading taxi, our Austin Commercial guide started pointing out the favorite features of his outdoor office. Bits and pieces started to look familiar: that's the tunnel, I recognize it from COTA's Facebook photo album; those are retaining walls, and there's Turn 1.

My whole perspective shifted when we were halfway up the incline of what's sure to be the United States GP's zenith: Turn 1.

The miniature city grew smaller and smaller on our steep ascent. Bulldozers and Tonka truck lookalikes whizzed by. This looked very different from our first trip up Turn 1 back in April; what was once large masses of dirt has taken shape. Turns are easily identifiable with large numbered flags and berms have been carved out which will one day seat many of us reading this. You finally get a grasp on the magnitude of this project from atop Turn 1 because you can see it all: the 300-400+ construction workers, the positioning of the future Grandstand and Paddock building, the downtown Austin skyline in the background, and my new favorite feature: The Grand Plaza.

To put it simply, the Grand Plaza is going to rock. In the past 3 days they have created a sunken ampitheater by digging a hole that is roughly the width of a football field, the length of two football fields, and 50 feet deep. At the east end of the ampitheater will be a round tower that will soon make its way to the top of Austin's destination list. A large observation deck, designed by the Austin architecture firm Miró Rivera Architects, will give viewers a panaromic perspective of the entire Circuit of The Americas dreamland set against Texas Hill Country. To the west you will have unparalleled views of our iconic Frost Tower and its neighboring buildings in downtown Austin. The tower and observation deck should be complete the first year with future plans to finish it out to include a banquet hall for 600 people, a club on the top floor, a museum and unrivaled suites on the first floor.

Excavation for the grand plaza started this week...and the site is huuuge!
To the west of the tower and observation deck sits the ampitheater. I was immediately reminded of one of my favorite places in the world, Chicago's Millennium Park. COTA is working to have our newest Austin ampitheater ready this year and should accommodate 14,000 live performance viewers. Like many ampitheater settings, there will be floor or standing room tickets for 1,500 (sometimes also referred to the mosh pit), then directly behind that, 3,500 permanent seats, and then it opens up to about 9,000 lawn seats. Continue moving west and you'll hit the reflection pond which might tempt unwanted swimmers when we hit our famous 100'F+ heat streaks.

I'm a huge live music fan so it's no surprise that I'm drawn to the outdoor ampitheater. But I think COTA is doing something very smart by creating an expansive and multi-use space in their mini-city. How many visitors will come to see Willie Nelson and Lyle Lovett perform and be intrigued by the racetrack? Or parents bring their kids to the observation deck and the kids get a different view of the world than from Austin Duck Tours? Huge potential to introduce non-oval style racing to an entirely new fanbase.

We covered a lot of ground out at the Circuit yesterday and this is just part of it. Over the next week we'll hit on the pit/paddock area and share our interview with COTA spokesperson Jeff Hahn as he goes into more detail about the progress. Until then, enjoy our photographs taken at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas on January 12, 2012 - 311 days until our United States Grand Prix, in case you're counting (and we know you are).



New Year, New Toys

As we await F1 Winter Testing to begin, we're working on other creative ways to keep you engaged.

Pinterest - the virtual pinboard

New on the social networking scene is Pinterest. It is a virtual pinboard: you find things that you are interested in or inspired by on the internet, and you "pin" online images and videos of the objects to your virtual bulletin boards. Like tumblr, other users can "re-pin" your objects to their boards if they share your interest. Broken down, it is another way to socially interact over shared interests on the web.

Between August and December 2011, Pinterest has grown from 1.2 million users to over 4 million.

The majority of Pinterest users appear to use it for style, design and cooking inspiration. Instead of creating 537 internet bookmarks for every gluten-free recipe that you find, you can "Pin" them to your self-titled "Gluten Free Pinboard" and have them in one spot.

What does this have to do with racing?

I created an Austin Grand Prix Pinterest account in December with the intent of organizing pictures and videos of motorsport and everything related - What books can I read about Formula 1? What movies are out there about historic motorsport moments? Who are the F1 drivers and teams? Instead of getting sucked into a black hole of F1 info, you can peruse our boards and if you're interested on knowing more about a specific topic, just "follow" that Pinterest board for updates.

What appeals to me the most about Pinterest is that you can find others who share your interests and discover related content that you may never have known about before.  To learn more about Pinterest, check out their website, read this beginner's guide from Mashable or the Wikipedia entry.  Other racing brands are jumping on the bandwagon, as SPEED TV announced their Pinterest account today.  As they say in the Pinterest world, Happy Pinning!

Here is a link to The Austin Grand Prix on Pinterest. I will be updating our "Pins" frequently so check back for new content weekly.

TIP: You must request an invitation to join Pinterest. If you need one, send me your email address at Pinterest {at}

The Austin Grand Prix on

December Construction Analysis of Circuit of The Americas

COTA Paddock Building-Nov 1, 2011, source: COTA//Overview

Vertical construction is taking shape at Circuit of The Americas with more and more evidence of progress each day. Recent photos published by COTA give us an inside look at the stages of construction at various portions of the facility such as the retaining walls around the turns and the highly complex paddock building.

For those interested in the technicality of it, we're going to take a closer look at the photos and provide an architectural analysis of the construction in progress. I could rattle on about the different types of A325 steel bolts, or hold a conversation about the Dead and Live loads of the building speaking only in Kips (1Kip = 1000lbs), but that wouldn't likely be all too appealing. Instead, we're going to use photos and illustrations to explain what's happening at Circuit of The Americas.

Retaining walls at COTA-Dec 21, 2011; source: COTA

Example of retaining wall; source: Building Construction Illustrated//Retaining Walls

From photos released as early as October 26th, we can see evidence of retaining wall construction around the track. With a high degree of elevation variability, the track design calls for a substantial amount of retaining walls to assist in the retention of earth and allow for drastic shifts in elevation. Keep in mind that soil can only be modified to 1:4 rate (1 foot rise per 4 feet length) and anything beyond this requires a retaining wall to hold it back.

In these photos from COTA, we can see retaining walls from approximately 8ft to 15ft tall, all constructed with site-cast concrete. Site-casting is the term for concrete structures thatExample of Wall form-work; source: Building Construction Illustrated are constructed on site with wooden or metal forms to shape the concrete. From the illustration of an example retaining wall, we can see that there are two pieces, the footing at the bottom, and a wall which sits on top.  The footings are poured first, and then the wall is poured, both with lots of steel reinforcement to increase strength.  From the photos of the retaining walls, we can see evidence of these different components as workers construct form-work and tie steel reinforcement to prepare for the addition of concrete.

While not the most glamorous of features at COTA, retaining walls are an essential part of the design of the facility. They provide a tool for designers to add elevation shifts and minimize the cost of reshaping the land, and therefore an integral part of the 133ft of elevation change at Circuit of The Americas. 

Drilling foundation piers for paddock building-Oct 13, 2011; Preparing second level form-work-Dec 20, 2011; source: COTA//Paddock BuildingExample of spread footing foundation pier; source: Building Construction Illustrated

The construction of the paddock building is the most visible portion of the facility at this point in time. Positioned just in front of the main straight and playing host to a highly dense set of activities, this is the most complex portion of the facility and likely to the be the most architecturally interesting.

In the first photos released in October, we can see the foundation piers for the paddock being drilled with large machinery. The design of these foundation piers is extremely critical due to the type of soils in this region which are comprised mostly of expansive clays (Houston Black, Ferris-Heiden, and Burleson if you want to get specific). While it's not possible to determine the exact type of pier being used for the paddock building from the photos, the expansive clay would likely work better with spread footings like in the illustration, or even conventional concrete piers drilled to subsurface bedrock 50-80ft below the surface.

Columns for the paddock building-Nov 1, 2011; source: COTAOnce these piers were finished, the site quickly began showing evidence of progress as columns and foundations were poured for the Paddock. The columns, like the retaining walls, are also site-cast, and as you can see in the photo, require a lot of reinforcement and form-work to support the shape and size of the column. Once poured, they can support substantial weight and long spans between columns, allowing the most amount of flexibility for customization and providing each racing team with a large open garage to work within.


 Form-work for second level concrete slab, and concrete column form-work; source: Building Construction Illustrated



The construction of the circuit will be quite interesting over the next year.  From an architectural perspective, it's difficult to get a sense of the project because a majority of work this past year focused on ground manipulation and infrastructure.  As the buildings start to take shape and we see vertical construction fully underway, a clearer picture of Circuit of The Americas will come into focus.

The past year in Austin has been one for the record books with some of our lowest precipitation counts in history. While this has wreaked havoc on many industries in the state, construction has continued to progress at the circuit, as evidenced by increasingly visible signs of progress.  While the impact of the delays from the contract negotiations has yet to cause the site crews to go into double or triple shift days, we'll continue to monitor the construction progress and update you as we race towards our 2012 inaugural race.

Tavo Hellmund Speaks About Future of F1 in Austin

 /// Audio Recording of Tavo Hellmund Press Conference

/// Overview of Press Conference

Just a few hours ago, Tavo Hellmund called a press conference to address the growing concern about the future of the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix to take place at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas next November.  In this conference, he explained the complicated situation that has lead to increased scrutiny by Formula 1 head Bernie Ecclestone and spoke more about his own relationship with Circuit of The Americas.

In a tiny room packed to capacity in downtown Austin, Tavo and his attorney, Casey Dobson, began by calming the waters which have lead to a full scale media assault on the future of Formula 1 in Austin. Tavo was confident in his belief that this will be sorted out, but conveyed a sense of frustration with his partners in order to get FOM (Formula One Managment) their sanctioning fee for the upcoming race.

Unlike the speculation by many media outlets that Tavo has been solely to blame and responsible for the events leading up to this situation, Tavo enlightened us on the past several months leading up to this day.  Most notably that the race was always supposed to be post-Montreal (in June), and due to concerns about circuit completion schedule, Bernie was helpful in accomodating the move to November on the calendar.

However, this schedule change did not effect the initial $25million payment to Bernie which was still due in late July, and though Bernie was very patient, the investors have been unable to provide these funds even several months afterward.  Thus, the contract Tavo had with Bernie is now considered breached and Bernie has still not been paid.

At this point in the press conference, Tavo expressed several times that the money just isn't there, and the Circuit of The Americas has put him in a difficult situation.  He conveyed several times that he is not a money man, and though his expertise in motorsports and promotions are very, very valuable to the success of Formula 1 in the US, he has been sidelined by his own partners due to a "difference in vision for the project."  Tavo did not elaborate on what this difference is, or what portion of the project has caused this conflict, but it's clear that Tavo is confident he has gone above and beyond his duties to his partners and is the primary man pushing for this work work out.

Many of the other reporters asked Tavo questions about his status with the team and whether he had been 'pushed out' of the project.  Tavo did respond with a simple statement that he had been offered a buyout but he did not disclose any details.

/// Conjecture

Today Tavo spoke more about the internal conflicts involving a "difference in vision for the project" which fall in line with Bernie's claims a few weeks ago.  Whether the nature of these conflicts have made solidifying the funding for the project difficult has not yet been proven but it's likely that the other partners are looking to solidify their race contracts before investing any more money into the project.  What remains to be seen is if COTA is willing and ready to work with Tavo to make it happen, assuming of course that they aren't trying to get their own race contract on their own.

All statements from COTA the past week have indicated they are ready to do so.

Of course all anyone really cares about is if this race is going to happen, and at this point there are still some things that we need to see before we know for sure.  The first would be the funding for the race contract to be secured and sent to Bernie ASAP, this would solidify the race on the calendar and cast the doubt aside.  The second is for the Circuit and Tavo to iron out the details of their relationship to ensure a positive outcome for all parties.

As Tavo said in the conference, no one has put more blood, sweat and tears into this project than him, and his background combined with his connections within the industry make him THE person to ensure the Grand Prix is a success.  When I first met Tavo in July 2010, following inital F1USGP Press Conference, I immediately felt confident that he was the man with the vision and determination to see this project through and it would be a severe tragedy to see Tavo left behind on this project for problems that can be worked out.

You can read our live tweets from the press conference by clicking here.

Given the gravity of today's press conference, we expect more developments from all parties involved and will continue to bring them to you for the latest updates.