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World Motor Sport Council

The Year via the Rearview Mirror

As many of us look back on 2011, what stands out as your favorite memory?

From time to time I take a look at what we were writing about on this site at the same time last year. Imagine my surprise to discover it was the aerial photos of the racetrack site, before any construction had begun. From my window seat on a flight into Austin, I was surprised how many times I had flown over the land before and never really noticed it, but honestly, there wasn't too much to stare at in Elroy from an airplane window. However, just a day after our photo release, first signs of work appeared on site as a construction crew met with Tavo Hellmund for a photo-op and official ground-breaking of the site. It wasn't quite the gold shovel event we were hoping it would be, but naysayers and 'boondoggle' speculators were hushed as Tavo showed the world that construction was underway.

Since this announcment, looking back at 2011 has revealed a truth, it's been a fantastic year, both as fans of motorsports and as a team here at AGP, we have constantly been surprised with each of this year's exciting happenings. From early on in the year, the connection we made with Asif Kapadia facilitated the introduction of SENNA at the SXSW film festival, opening up the life of Ayrton Senna for fans and non-fans of motorsports. From my point of view, it truly changed my life, not only seeing the immense technical and competitive war within the sport, but personalities that extended far beyond the track. It opened up the sport to me in a way that even Kevin couldn't explain, and many we talked with as well, were also just so surprised with the way the movie effected them.

Following the SXSW festival, the formal announcment of Circuit of The Americas at the press conference in April came quicker than expected, with the added bonus of MotoGP and growing evidence of major site construction and heavy equipment at the track. The summer's city council meetings along with the MAKE IT HAPPEN campaign we started, helped drive the community to rally to support COTA and the City of Austin to move forward.

During the one month Formula 1 break, the SENNA movie returned to Austin as the hype for Formula 1 grew and getting a chance to speak with viewers of the film just following their experience at Violet Crown Cinema was a real treat. To add icing on the cake, Red Bull Racing and former F1 driver David Coulthard visited Austin for a commercial shoot which roared throught the streets of downtown and the county roads outside. This was a great chance for many to get their first glimpse at an F1 car in person. It was quite a treat and undoubtibly was a great sucess in opening the eyes (and ears) of many curious Austinites.

The final leg of the season segwayed into a downtown watch party location at SIX Lounge, and started a new venue for fans and non-fans to get together and watch, learn, and relax on a Sunday afternoon. Opening up an additional location was critical in our mind to help expand the reach of motorsport to new fans.

As the one year countdown to the innagural race approached, things began to shake up a bit between Bernie Ecclestone and the officals of COTA. Things finally were ironed out just a few weeks later, and on December 7th, the official placement of the Formula 1 race in Austin was secured, along with a revised contract with the officials of COTA and F1. It was an early holiday treat, but a very welcome one as the fate of Austin's race was surely going to effect the fans in the US.

So where are we today? Looking back at this past year and the magnificent things that have happened, it's hard to not be so anxious for 2012 to begin. Only a few hours away and we'll be counting down the days to the first race at COTA and the return of Formula 1 to the U.S. after several years. It should be no surprise that more and more attention will be paid to what's happening here, likely to cause some headaches, but nontheless, we are proud to welcome everything that will be happening in 2012. It's likely to get 300% more exciting, and we at AGP are ready for 2012! Are you?


"Formula 1 and Circuit of The Americas Ready to Roll"


Adding to the positive news from the FIA World Motor Sport Council meeting earlier this morning, Circuit of The Americas has issued a press release confirming:

COTA has reached an agreement with F1 Management, ensuring the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix remains on the FIA Formula 1 World Championship race calendar.

Bernie Ecclestone "received his check today" (Joe Saward believes the price tag to now be $35MM).

Construction will resume immediately, ensuring completion for the 2012 race date.

Tavo's vision is referenced but as reported earlier, we do not see his information on the COTA website any longer.

You can read the full release here.

Congratulations to our friends at Circuit of The Americas! We are hopeful that the Texas weather will continue to cooperate so construction can progress at full steam ahead.

We are already reading your mind. You're thinking: "When do tickets go on sale!?" You should sign up for their official email list by clicking HERE.


Formula 1 adds the news to their front page

Austin Remains on 2012 F1 Calendar

More official reports are emerging that the 2012 F1 calendar has been ratified by the FIA World Motor Sport Council at their meeting in New Delhi. This means the Austin Formula One race scheduled for November 16-18, 2012 officially remains on the calendar. This is also an opportune time to mention that it was never officially removed from the F1 calendar, despite rumors and gossip over the past month amidst what we believe to be heavy negotiations.

Official Press Release from the December 7, 2011 World Motor Sport Council meeting is here.

While we share in the excitement and relief of this announcement, it will be interesting to continue to see what announcements are made over the next 12 hours; it is 5 o'clock in the morning in Austin, Texas and we expect further details to emerge from Circuit of The Americas. What sort of deal was reached with COTA and F1? Was Tavo Hellmund involved? Will construction resume immediately? Is it feasible to complete the Circuit in time for inspection ahead of November 16, 2012? Have local hotel rooms been released for anxious travelers to book up?

As you've come to expect...stay tuned!

Nick Craw meets with Formula 1 United States team members as well as local, city and state officials and gave the project development plan his approval and a strong “thumbs up”. Nick Craw, ACCUS President for the US, Senate President of the FIA; Tavo Hellmund, Chairman of the Formula 1 United States; Peter Wahl, Managing Partner of Tilke GmbH. Taken 21 October 2010.


Slow Down There 'Pardner, Keep Your Shirts On

Is this really what we want to see in front of us at an F1 race in June? Lets hope this guy gets a COME AND RACE IT™ shirt!Many in the motorsports industry were quite surprised when the FIA World Motor Sport Council established the preliminary 2012 calendar a few months ago and set the Inaugural Austin F1 race date for June 17th, 2012. If you were to ask any Austinite about holding a major event outdoors in the summer, they would have just about died laughing. Clearly, the WMSC and other primarily European F1 decision makers didn't quite understand the gravity of the heat in Texas, and what it would mean to the many international travelers whom would be leaving 21º C (70º F) average highs in Europe, would be very surprised with Austin's average of 33º C (91º F) for the month of June.

We expressed our same concern when we first heard about the June race date, but didn't bring it up, expecting it to be changed later in November, when the official 2012 calendar is set.  Well as Autosport is reporting today, Bernie Eccelstone has sent out a message to the teams about modifying the calendar for the 2012 season and is expected to push for Austin to be moved to November, just before the Brazilian GP.

This is very welcome news from our point of view and also makes a lot more sense logistically. Granted, the Canadian GP in Montreal is in early June and holding the USGP just back-to-back is logical. However, this would force the teams to either drive from Montreal or pack up and fly to Austin. 

F1 car being loaded on DHL plane for transportTransporting the teams is a costly and logistically complex operation, employing many people dedicated just to move the teams around the world. Thankfully, the F1 fleet of DHL planes on their way to Brazil in November, stop over at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) for a layover.  It's no coincidence that COTA picked a parcel of land so close to the airport here in Austin, whereby having the F1 fleet fly through Austin would be cost effective and efficient.  Things just keep falling into place, huh?

So what does this potential calendar change to late fall really mean?

1) It will be significantly cooler and more enjoyable for you to walk around the track, explore the various events at Circuit of The Americas and in downtown Austin, and allow you to focus on having fun in our fine city; not spend it hopping from shade spots to shade spots, searching for water, misters and A/C.

2) This will allow COTA to meet more of the deadlines with ease and ensure that the facility is at its peak operational capability when the teams arrive early the week before the F1 race.

3) As our friend John Maher at the Austin American-Statesman reported in April, the University of Texas at Austin (UT) stated it would consider moving a 2012 Longhorns football (American) game if it conflicts with the F1 race in Austin. A reminder that each UT Longhorns football game draws a crowd average of 100,000. Also, the F1 calendar is set prior to NCAA football schedules, which would prevent logistical change of schedule nightmares. More great news, unless of course, you were hoping to double book your trip here to see F1 and some great Texas football.

4) Ozone levels are lower in the fall than in the summer and will have less environmental impact. As discussed in the City of Austin's agreement with CELOC (the organizing entity for Circuit of the Americas to receive state funds), the Central Texas ozone season is April 1 - October 31. Therefore, a November race would complement environmental initiatives established by Council Members Chris Riley and Mike Martinez.

And to keep the ball rolling, Austin businesses in cooperation with the Austin Chamber of Commerce are working to get Austin Bergstrom International Airport (ABIA) to accomodate direct international flights instead of going through Dallas and Houston.  This of course means less layovers for travelers and a more internationally friendly atmosphere, so lets hope this happens as well!


Would You Tolerate a 'Day of Rage' To See A Race?

While last Friday's announcement of the 2012 schedule caught everyone by surprise, we reacted quickly by focusing on the 2012 Formula 1 United States Grand Prix and the June 17th date for the race.  Since the news has settled down a bit and I've had some time to go back and look a little closer, I think the issue of the 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix needs to be explained a bit.

Citizens rally in protest of the Kingdom of Bahrain. Source LA Times

'A Day of Rage'

With the announcement the Bahrain Grand Prix being reinstated on the 2011 calendar (it was canceled earlier this year), protesters and human rights groups in Bahrain are calling for a 'Day of Rage' to counter the decision by the Kingdom of Bahrain and the FIA. 

As the FIA World Motor Sports Council announced on Friday, the 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix is now back on the calendar this year and set for October 30th.  In order to make room, the Indian Grand Prix has now been pushed back to December 11th following the Brazilian Grand Prix over the U.S. Thanksgiving weekend.  Not only does that leave a short 13 weeks break period between the 2011 and 2012 season, it also means that Bahrain will be 19 weeks apart from its 2012 position at the beginning of the next race season.

According to the press release, FIA Vice President Carlos Gracia spent May 31st in Bahrain to assess the situation and visit with officials from various Ministries, Circuit officials and a representative from the National Institute of Human Rights.   All of these reassurances however, are not enough to truly shed some honest light on the situation.

One Day On-Site Inspection Enough?

Bernie Eccelstone talks with Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, who was the main advocate for building the Bahrain International Circuit to host Formula 1. Source Yahoo NewsFirst, I have to question the thoroughness of such an on-site visit.  Could this on-site visit that lasted just one day really be enough to determine the appropriateness of the race?  An F1 race is no small impact on a city, on the contrary, officials from FIA and Bahrain proclaim that the impact to the economy is nearly $500 million dollars.  With over 100,000 people attending the race, the presence of F1 will be nearly impossible to ignore, and for the citizens of Bahrain, an easy target of criticism and anger as their brothers and sisters are standing up for their rights against the oppressive regime.

Now it would be a mistake to assume that politics and F1 are independent.  After all, business and politics are closely intertwined with F1.  A similar problem faced Formula 1 for the 1985 South Afrian Grand Prix, when several teams protested the GP due to the existence of apartheid in that country.  Following this race, F1 did not return until 1992 following the end of of the policy in 1991.  But the remains of the discussion and lingering attitude of the ignorant Formula 1 policy still tarnishes the return of Formula 1 to South Africa.

Reactions From Citizens, Drivers and Teams

Since the announcement, several people have come out and declared their disapproval of the decision.  F1 has been warned by Nabeel Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, that protesters are calling for a 'Day of Rage' to protest the reinstated grand prix (see Planet F1). 

Red Bull Racing Team Driver Mark WebberFrom the driver's perspective, one of the most vocal advocates for a more sensitive approach to Bahrain has been Red Bull Driver Mark Webber, and with a tweet-heard-around-the-world from his official twitter account @aussiegrit, he said "When people in a country are being hurt, the issues are bigger than sport. Let's hope the right decision is made..."  Clearly, Mark has a good point...

Red Bull Racing released a statement on their website saying "We will go through the correct channels and discuss this decision within the appropriate forum with the other F1 teams and our fellow FOTA members."  It's expected that the Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) will be meeting again soon to discuss their position on the decision to return to Bahrain.  This may be the early warnings of a possible rebellious decision to not participate, similar to the threats by Ligier and Renault preceding the 1985 South African Grand Prix.  One of the major concerns that a team would likely endure is the ability to get insurance to take the team and it's assets and employees to the race.  This would likely be extremely expensive given the current situation and could prohibit the teams, especially lower budget teams, to travel to Bahrain.

Fans and non-fans are speaking their mind as well.  Even before the announcement of the schedule by the FIA, the online petition giant was well underway to expanding their plee to help stop F1 going back to Bahrain.  Their petition has reached nearly 450,000 signatures in just 72 hours, and continues to grow steadily.  This kind of pressure is hard to ignore and if it continues, will be a highly effective tool at reaching the world's media.

Keeping It In Perspective

Is a human life worth the sponsorship money and global exposure of the sport?  Clearly not; this is the extreme case but the sensitivity of the situation should be handled with extreme care.  Formula 1 does not want to have blood on it's hands should protests about the sport turn violent and result in more bloodshed.  This would forever tarnish the relationship of the sport with Bahrain, and potentially interfere with Middle-East relations with Western Countries  (the last thing anyone wants right now).

No different than the earlier season decision to postpone the race until later in 2011, it's still too early to hold another race in Bahrain.  Formula One should respectfully decline the invitation to return.  If the teams are unwilling to spend the money to travel to Bahrain and see the race, are regular citizens going to risk getting caught up in civil unrest to attend the emotionally-charged and debated race?  We need to keep things in perspective; this is, after all, a sport. It's not our place to get between the citizens of Bahrain and their Government.