Mayor of Austin on Formula 1's benefits


Marussia and Caterham are in administration, other teams are rumoured to be on the brink of financial meltdown and there are cries for Formula 1 to rethink its financial model. There’s too much money leaving the sport and not enough for the participants, especially those at the back of the grid.

But what of the circuits? Silverstone is clearly going through a phase of upheaval and managing director Richard Phillips, finance director Ed Brookes, and legal director David Thompson have all been suspended.

It’s well known that circuits struggle to make any sort of income from hosting a Formula 1 race. Much like owning a team at the back of the grid, it’s a vanity project where the benefits fall under the marketing banner.

Interestingly, though, the Mayor of Austin, Lee Leffingwell, recently laid bare the economic benefits the United States Grand Prix bring to the Texan City.

“Formula 1,” he told Bein Sports, “is the major event at the Circuit of the Americas and the total impact for the venue in the past year was almost $900m (£563m). The economic impact of the race itself was about $570m (£357m). That’s the biggest single event in terms of impact that we have in the city. It’s even bigger than South by Southwest.”

Music and film festival South by Southwest has been running since 1987 and while it ‘only’ attracts 20,000 people, it is known the world over by music fans. However, Austin has clearly embraced Formula 1 and Lewis Hamilton was even on The Today Show (if only for 90 seconds) in the run up to this year’s race.

“F1 has had a big effect on Austin,” continued Leffingwell, “and hotels and businesses do benefit hugely. We have a local boot store here for example and their biggest time of the year is when F1 is in town. They want to buy their Texas boots…”

With 85 per cent of the influx of people for the race coming from outside of Texas (and a large part of that percentage from outside of the United States) F1 is surely here to stay. But with the sport bumbling through such a rocky period it’s unfortunate that it is the US GP, of all races, when there will be fewer cars on the grid than normal. None of us need reminding of the 2005 farce at Indianapolis…

Caterham and Marussia won’t be there and it’s been reported that Sebastian Vettel won’t run until race day because he doesn’t have any spare engines. With that in mind there will only be 17 cars on the track when qualifying begins and while you only need two to make a race, it’s not a very good situation.

What’s more – what do we think the huge number of spectators at the Circuit of the Americas will think of the new power units? Almost silent V6s in place of screaming V8s… It’s not very American is it? “I like the cars’ noise without using ear plugs,” commented Leffingwell. “I was a navy pilot and a Delta Airlines pilot for 30 years. The noise reminds me of jet engines back in the day.” I think Leffingwell will be in for as surprise come first practice tomorrow.

The teams, drivers and fans love the race at Austin, I just hope that F1 puts on a good show come Sunday.

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