McLaren CEO has ideas for Austin track to succeed
Whitmarsh suggests pairing race with another one nearby
Martin Whitmarsh, the chairman of the Formula One Teams Association, wants to see another U.S. city join Austin as the site of a F1 race.
“Dipping our toe in for one weekend a year isn’t enough. I think we maybe need more than one Grand Prix in America,” said Whitmarsh, the 52-year-old CEO of McLaren Racing, which leads both the team and drivers’ championship standings this year in F1.
He said a second stop, in addi- tion to the U.S. Grand Prix slated to begin just southeast of Austin in 2012, would benefit the race being promoted by Tavo Hellmund and Full Throttle Productions. Another Grand Prix in the United States, on either the East or West Coast, Whitmarsh said, would allow F1 to better promote the sport.
“Maybe we need to send our drivers to the David Letterman show,” Whitmarsh said.
Right now, the only F1 race in North America takes place in Montreal, in June.
“It would be nice to have it backto-back (with the Montreal race),” Whitmarsh said of the proposed Austin race. “Or maybe in the same loop as Brazil.”
The Grand Prix of Brazil will be
Continued from C Nov. 7 this year. Whitmarsh pointed to the Sao Paulo track as one of best in F1, one that offered chances for overtaking, as passing is known, and exciting races. He said he would like to see a similar setup in Central Texas.
“If someone gave me a green field, I would look at the classics,” Whitmarsh said. “If it’s a great race track, teams don’t complain about the facility.”
Whitmarsh also said Formula One could use an attitude adjustment when it returns to the U.S. after a three-year absence. The last Grand Prix in this country took place in Indianapolis in 2007.
“Perhaps there’s been too much arrogance. The U.S. doesn’t need Formula One,” Whitmarsh said, adding that it was up to F1 to make the sport compelling to U.S. autoracing fans.
On Friday, Whitmarsh was in Budapest watching his team run practice laps at Hungaroring in advance of Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix. He also was responding to reporters’ volleys about F1’s controversies du jour — the front wing used by the rival Red Bull team and Ferrari’s on-track flip flop of its drivers at the recent German Grand Prix.
Whitmarsh wasn’t so sure Red Bull’s wing was legal, and he said the McLaren team would not tell a driver to lose a race to a teammate in order to gain an edge in the drivers’ points.
He also took some time to talk to the American-Statesman about the planned Grand Prix for Austin. Like almost everyone else, he said he was surprised by the May announcement of the proposed race and circuit.
“It came out of the blue,” Whitmarsh said, speaking by telephone. “I was concerned that the land wasn’t secured.”
In the past week, the track site, about 900 acres in southeastern Travis County, has been unveiled, and race organizers also introduced a lead investor, San Antonio businessman Red McCombs. Whitmarsh said he hasn’t been to Austin and was unfamiliar with McCombs. When informed that McCombs had owned a pair of NBA teams and an NFL franchise, Whitmarsh said, “He’s an experienced sports franchise holder. That sounds encouraging. Those are professional, wellrun sports. … He’s coming in with his eyes wide open.”
Whitmarsh said staging an F1 race was a huge undertak- ing and a very challenging one for promoters.
There are no drivers or teams from the U.S. on the 2010 F1 circuit, but Whitmarsh said, “The U.S. market is huge and important to our partners. … Every single team wants to be there.”
According to “Formula Money,” a study of F1 finances authored by journalists Christian Sylt and Caroline Reid, last year there were more F1 corporate sponsors headquartered in the U.S., 36, than in any other country. A U.S. Grand Prix also could make for good TV, Whitmarsh said, because time-zone differences mean an afternoon race in the U.S. airs in prime time in Europe, the traditional home of Formula One.
F1 racing has had a checkered history in the U.S., particularly after Formula One left the Watkins Glen circuit in New York after 1980 and made stops everywhere from Detroit to Dallas to Las Vegas.
“We need to make a proper job of it, the way we haven’t in the past,” Whitmarsh said. “We’ve got to commit to a venue or venues. We can’t keep changing around the way we have. … The U.S. Grand Prix has been transient for too long.”