Earlier this year, Top Gear set the first ever lap record of the new F1 track in Austin, Texas. We’re quite proud of this, and – despite taking over five minutes due to stray cows and a slightly unfinished surface – it could be a record we hold for longer than we thought.
Because, according to words BBC Sport have attributed to Bernie Ecclestone, negotiations for next year’s American Grand Prix have become an “uphill struggle”.
“Austin? I wouldn’t want to put my money down that that will happen,” Bernie is reported to have said. “I hope it will and we are doing our best to make it happen, but I wouldn’t want to say ‘yes’.”
Steve Sexton, president of the Circuit of the Americas, has replied: “Our funding is secured and construction is on schedule, so we don’t understand these comments.”
So what’s going on?
Well, there are more players in this game. Aside from Sexton and the Circuit of the Americas, there’s Tavo Hellmund, boss of race promoters Full Throttle and lifelong acquaintance of Bernie’s.
“Mr Ecclestone has been incredibly patient with the challenges here in Austin,” said Hellmund. “Full Throttle Productions has worked tirelessly to bring the US Grand Prix to the city. It is now the responsibility of the Circuit of the Americas to make this project happen before Mr Ecclestone’s patience runs out.”
Are the diggers not working fast enough? When we visited in June, the groundwork operation was at full steam and we were told tarmac was weeks away. Five months later, there’s still little tarmac, and the buildings are mostly skeletons.
But hey, we’re no builders, and these people can undoubtedly knock up an F1 track quicker than we could put up a shelf. But with Bahrain back in the game and a second US race in New Jersey confirmed for 2013, competition for space on the calendar remains fierce as ever. It will be interesting to see what happens next.
UPDATE: Well, something has happened alright. Overnight, it was revealed that all construction on the track has stopped this week, following the battle among the organisers.
Full Throttle Productions and the circuit owners are in dispute over the transfer of the race hosting contract. A statement issued by the track owners said work will not resume until this contract is in place.
Bobby Epstein, the founding partner of the Circuit of the Americas, said: “We have spent tremendous resources preparing for the Formula 1 and MotoGP Championship races, but the failure to deliver race contracts gives us great concern.
“We believe the United States is vital for the future of Formula 1 and its teams and sponsors. Given the purpose-built Tilke design, creating a unique fan experience and iconic challenge for drivers, we hope that Texas will not be left behind. More than 100,000 fans have expressed an interest in purchasing tickets for Formula 1 alone.”
And Full Throttle Productions replied, saying: “After years of effort in getting F1 to Austin, Full Throttle Productions and city, county and state officials have done all we could.
“It is the responsibility of Circuit of the Americas to bring it across the finish line. For the sake of everyone, we are hopeful that they can reach an agreement with Formula 1.”
With the FIA World Motor Sport Council due to confirm the 2012 calendar at a meeting early next month, it’s a dispute that will need sorting out soon…