Meet the man re­spon­si­ble for the ex­pan­sion of F1 in the Amer­i­cas

F1 Racing (UK) - - CONTENTS -

Two of the most pop­u­lar races on the F1 cal­en­dar owe their ex­is­tence to one man. Austin res­i­dent Tavo Hell­mund pro­vided the im­pe­tus for the US GP’S re­turn in 2012 at the new Cir­cuit of The Amer­i­cas, and he en­gi­neered the re­vival of the Mex­i­can GP two years ago as well.

It’s per­haps no sur­prise that Hell­mund, 51, be­came a race pro­moter: he’s fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of his fa­ther, who him­self pro­moted the Mex­i­can GP in the 1980s. Dur­ing this time Hell­mund Jr met Bernie Ec­cle­stone, and when Tavo left school in the US he came to the UK and be­came a ‘go­pher’ for the Brab­ham F1 team – sweep­ing the floor and mak­ing the tea.

Any­one who spent any time with that team in the early 1980s will know that its staff in­cluded a core group of peo­ple who are high up in F1 to­day: FIA race di­rec­tor Char­lie Whit­ing and key FOM lieu­tenants Alan Wool­lard and Ed­die Baker. So Hell­mund has no short­age of con­tacts when it comes to or­gan­is­ing grands prix.

Be­fore he set up his pro­mo­tions busi­ness, Full Throt­tle Pro­duc­tions, Hell­mund had set his sights on a rac­ing ca­reer. He com­peted in Vaux­hall Lo­tus and For­mula 3 in the mid-1990s be­fore re­turn­ing to the US to race in NASCAR. “Then, in about 2005, I called Bernie with an idea…” he re­calls. The US GP was, at that time, be­ing held at the In­di­anapo­lis Mo­tor Speed­way, but the race, ac­cord­ing to Hell­mund, “would al­ways play sec­ond fid­dle to the Indy 500.”

Hell­mund was aware of a mech­a­nism known as the Texan Ma­jor Events Trust Fund, cre­ated by the lo­cal gov­ern­ment to help pay for sport­ing events that would of­fer a re­turn-on-in­vest­ment ben­e­fit for the lo­cal econ­omy. So by the time the lat­est it­er­a­tion of the US GP was an­nounced in 2010, Hell­mund had al­ready spent years cul­ti­vat­ing lob­by­ists to get F1 to Texas, and had been able to pull to­gether the nec­es­sary in­vestors to make the race a re­al­ity.

Af­ter Austin came Mex­ico, and then, last win­ter, it emerged that Hell­mund was one of the po­ten­tial buy­ers of the Manor F1 team. Un­for­tu­nately he wasn’t able to se­cure a deal, and ul­ti­mately the team had to close.

“If [former owner] Stephen Fitz­patrick had taken our of­fer ear­lier, it might have worked,” says Hell­mund. “They agreed to our terms in late De­cem­ber, but it was too late. I felt bad for the 200 em­ploy­ees be­cause I think there was po­ten­tial there. It was a shame, but re­ally, what needs to hap­pen is a bet­ter dis­tri­bu­tion of in­come and a re­duc­tion in costs. That’s what any team needs if it’s to have a chance in F1.”

Hell­mund is now fo­cus­ing on fu­ture F1 venues. “I’m work­ing on a cou­ple of po­ten­tial events, in a new city in the Amer­i­cas, but it’s still early,” he con­firms. “I’ve spo­ken with Chase Carey and he knows I’m a be­liever in the F1 project – I have been for 40 years and I’m here to help. Austin is safe, but out of the cities that have been pub­licly men­tioned, New York, Las Ve­gas and Mi­ami, I’m sure one of them will join the cal­en­dar in 2019. But there’s a dif­fer­ence be­tween po­ten­tial and real race venues.”

And hav­ing turned a field in the out­skirts of Austin into the venue for a much-cher­ished grand prix, Hell­mund is cer­tainly some­one who knows the dif­fer­ence.

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