Formula 1 recently announced a new Miami Grand Prix for 2022.
Circuit of the Americas track boss Bobby Epstein wants a new deal and is confident that F1 is keen to stay in Texas.
Circuit of the Americas current contract with Formula 1 is set to expire at the end of 2021.
Formula 1’s future in the United States looks stronger than ever.
The sport has recently announced a new and exciting Miami Grand Prix for 2022, and there have been several big new U.S. sponsors come into the sport with Red Bull landing Oracle and Walmart.
In Barcelona, the United States Grand Prix promoter Bobby Epstein popped up, keeping a low profile but clearly keen to wrapping up a new deal for the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. COTA has hosted Formula 1 since 2012, only missing the 2020 race season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, if all goes well, it will be the ninth F1 race at COTA and the end of the original 10-year contract (2020 having been written off because of “force majeure”).
Epstein wants a new deal and is confident that F1 is keen to stay in Texas, as well as Miami, and perhaps with a third race as well in the years ahead.
“It’s the first opportunity we have had to get together aside from on a Zoom call,” Epstein told Autoweek in an exclusive interview at Barcelona. “Once the numbers connect, it is very easy to do a deal. We’ve been talking about it for a long time. I think we both want it to happen and that’s the best place to start.”
There’s been a lot of negativity about the race in Austin, but Epstein says that debts have been converted into equity and the track is doing well.
The State of Texas recently agreed to new zoning on parts of the circuit land which will mean that plans can go ahead to build new attractions on the site to turn the track into an entertainment complex that could include a water park, an 11-story hotel with 350 rooms with meeting space and room for conventions, plus some residences with garaging for cars and some condominiums, creating a huge entertainment hub with indoor and outdoor sports complexes, condos, retail space and a private motorsports club.
Formula 1 is still good business in Texas, reports Epstein.
“In the first week, we sold pretty much all the tickets we put up for sale and we plan to break the 2019 attendance record,” Epstein said. “Texas was the first place to lift COVID-19 restrictions (in the U.S.) and put on sporting events, and we’re full. We’re at 100 percent capacity.
“Once people start getting vaccinated, it improves pretty quickly, at least in our case. It made a huge difference. We were vaccinating 15,000 per weekend at the circuit. I think we started two months ago, and last week we had 5,000 shots but only 100 people showed up. I guess the demand is gone. Most of the population that wants the vaccine has had it.”
Epstein is very positive about the news for a Grand Prix in Miami, which is likely going to happen in June. The race at Circuit of the Americas is set for Oct. 24 this year.
“I think more race in our time zones are good for the sport,” he said. “The fact that we are not back-to-back weekends is better for the sport. If F1 came over and did it for two weekends straight I don’t think the impact of that would be good. I think we’re getting double the impact this way. Miami should sell out huge the first year and maybe the second year and then after that I think we’d be spitting audience if we were around the same time on the calendar. So the spread is fantastic.
"We have tradition in the sense that now we have done it for a decade we have the campgrounds fuller every year. People are making it an annual thing in their calendars and are saying: ‘See you next year’ when they meet other fans.
“We see from tickets sales this year that more than 65 percent of people are from outside of Texas. I think it will stay that way. A lot of people will wait until the last minute to see what the weather is like but those will be the locals. I still think we’ll end up with two-thirds from out of state. I think we might be at 80 percent of out of state people from outside the U.S. are hesitant to make plans five or six months ahead. But I’m optimistic, seeing how quickly the U.S. rebounded to normal once the pendulum starts to swing. I think within three months, Europe will be really back to a semblance of normalcy.”
Epstein says that the Drive to Survive Netflix Series has made a big difference in helping promote the sport.
“The endemic F1 fan base is pretty steady,” he said. “There was excitement when F1 was bought by a U.S. firm, but having a U.S. owner doesn’t create U.S. fans. Netflix has catapulted things, particularly with the women and having to appeal to the whole family and with teenagers watching the show. We have seen a massive rise in the younger demographic, which is what we all hoped for.”
Epstein announced that one of two race-weekend concerts in 2021 will feature Billy Joel, who is 71.
“Yeah, but you haven’t seen the Friday night act,” Epstein said. “It’s massive. It won’t be announced for another three weeks, because of some restrictions by the band, but when you see that act you’ll go: “OK, they crushed it”. These guys are current. The group has been selling out. They’ll sell out their whole tour and we happen to be on that tour. I’m so excited.”
Epstein says that he’s happy if F1 can get a third U.S. race, as long is it “the right one”.
“I think there are a couple of other spots where it would work,” he says. “Las Vegas is currently on everyone’s list and I think it would be good for the sport if that happens.”