• US Grand Prix

F1 warms to a return to USA

ESPNF1 Staff
April 24, 2010 « Stefan GP relaunches F1 plans | »
Tony George talks with Zak Brown in Shanghai last weekend © Sutton Images

Tony George is trying to bring Formula One racing back to the United States, but not necessarily to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, according to a report in the Indianapolis Business Journal.

George was head of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy Racing League (IRL) until 2009 when he was removed, and his own IRL team folded last year. Local sources suggest that bringing F1 back to Indianapolis is no longer his priority, although his family continues to run the circuit.

There has been no US Grand Prix since 2007 when George and Bernie Ecclestone failed to come to a commercial agreement, but there is a large fan base in the country and Ecclestone is also aware of the huge financial market there to be exploited.

George was spotted in China at last week's Shanghai Grand Prix where he was the guest of Ecclestone. He reportedly had discussions about future plans for a grand prix in the USA as well as meeting with potential sponsors.

While Indianapolis is the historical home for F1 in the USA - the Indianapolis 500 was included in the world championship from its inception in 1950 for more than a decade - Ecclestone has made no secret of his desire to host a race in or near New York. On top of that, business experts said Ecclestone would have to lower the F1 sanctioning fee, which ranges from $10 million to $30 million annually, to make the race feasible in Indianapolis.

When asked whether or not Indianapolis was the best place for a potential round stateside, Ecclestone said: "Yeah, it is. It's only the fact that it's all the wrong crowd and the wrong people. Nothing worked there really. We'd have to have a big change round. But we'd like to get back there."

But if it failed the last time it was here, why would it come back?
Randy Bernard, the new head of the struggling IRL
But Zak Brown, founder and CEO of Just Marketing International, an Indianapolis-based motorsports marketing firm, who was in Shanghai as well, said F1's sponsors were clambering for a presence in the USA.

"Would Tony George love to broker a deal to bring back a US Grand Prix? Sure," Brown told the newspaper. "Tony has a lot of contacts in motorsports, and he knows how to put on a US Grand Prix. I think if there's a role for Tony in trying to bring Formula One back to the US, he'd be willing to help. Tony and Bernie have a very good relationship, and Tony has a lot of interest in seeing F1 return to the US."

Brown added that Ecclestone's long-term aim may well be to host two races in the US, as has happened before. That would raise concerns among teams and fans who are already concerned the expansion of the sport into new venues is leading to an overcrowded calendar. Ecclestone will have none of that, recently remarking there could be as many as 25 grands prix in a season.

Cars line up at the start of the 2006 US Grand Prix © Sutton Images
Back in Indianapolis, the possible return of F1 was greeted with caution. "Anything in the entertainment world from the NFL to F1 is a competitor," Randy Bernard, the new head of the struggling IRL, said. "If it is good for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the city and the state, who am I to make a formal opinion to the contrary? But if it failed the last time it was here, why would it come back?"

While some fear F1's return to Indianapolis, other worry about the consequences if it did not locate there. "If the world's top level of motor racing returned to the US and didn't locate at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, you'd really have to scratch your head," Tim Frost, president of a Chicago-based motorsports business consultancy

"He [George] still has an ownership stake in the Speedway. I'm not sure why he would work to bring it anywhere else unless he's simply convinced it wouldn't work there."