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