The May 1 deadline imposed by the FIA for Bahrain to reapply for a 2011 race date is upon us. But don’t look for a grand reshuffling of the season finale races to take place to allow Bahrain to slot in around Abu Dhabi. The situation continues to worsen in the tiny kingdom as Saudi troops have been blowing up Shia mosques and similar such things. While it is in Formula One Management’s (FOM) best interests to get this race rescheduled, the FIA is likely to spurn any attempt made by Bahrain or FOM to get this race reinstated. The political ramifications are too great and this current FIA administration does not appear to favor the lockstep-with-Bernie approach that it did under previous leadership. Further, one would expect the FIA to view Bahrain’s 2012 prospects in a dim light.
Given how poorly the most recent WRC event in Jordan went, the FIA may rightly have a sour taste in their mouth for all the political unrest and turmoil in that region.
Aside from Bahrain, Turkey appears to be another issue that is rearing its head. Turkish officials are not pleased with FOM’s sanction fee for 2012 jumping to $26 million USD from a current level of $13 million USD. While most Grands Prix are paying significantly more than $13 million, Turkey was something of a special case since FOM had a promotions deal with Turkey and was reaping some of the traditional profit that the race promoter would normally garner. Still, $26 million is a huge jump from their current fee and some consider it unlikely that Turkey will continue with F1, given the fact that they hardly draw 35,000 spectators for race day.
But, all hope is not lost. Bernie has something of a traditional way to go about bullying his race promoters as we have seen with his dealings in Melbourne, Silverstone and Indianapolis. As long as he throws a tantrum to the media about how crappy the promoters are and then follows up such verbal diarrhea with sanctioning fee negotiations, he has managed to get his way in the past. $26 million is just the opening public bid in their negotiations which will take until June (if you believe Bernie) or September (if you believe Turkey). Since Bernie has not taken to flamethrowing yet, it may be an indication that he wants to keep Istanbul….. or it may mean that he hasn’t yet begun to negotiate.
What about Austin? Just a couple weeks ago we were treated to the hoopla as they named themselves “Circuit of the Americas”. Along with that, they announced their partnership with MotoGP and discussed the year round operation of the track and its facilities. But what we didn’t hear about was the ongoing debate in the Texas legislature about the $25 million dollars in sales tax revenue that the circuit was intending to use on a yearly basis to pay Bernie his sanctioning fee.
Part of what made the Texas GP deal amenable to Tavo Helmund (the race promoter) and Bernie’s FOM was $25 million dollars a year that could be taken from the Texan Major Events Trust Fund to help pay the yearly F1 sanctioning fee. The trust fund was established last year to take sales tax revenue and reinvest it into the major events that generate such revenue. But apparently this fund is now part of the budget process wrangling as politicians decide whether it is better to spend money out of the state’s coffers to fund auto racing or other necessary programs instead.
So, What Does it all Mean?
So there are three potential 2012 venues that may or may not make it onto the schedule. Bahrain is the least likely to return in my opinion. I think Turkey will probably be back, especially given the fact that Bahrain is very doubtful to show up next year. But Texas is probably the one that will be analyzed most closely.
Texas represents a new attempt by F1 to make inroads into a US marketplace that has remained ambivalent to the globetrotting series’ existence. All the sponsors and teams want F1 to work in the US but so far it has yet to be embraced.
I can only imagine that CVC (the current owner of F1’s commercial rights) will not be too happy with their frontman if all three of these events are not on next year’s schedule.