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HindustanTimes Sun,20 Apr 2014
Ecclestone looks West to solve Yankee riddle
Joe Saward
April 09, 2012
First Published: 23:39 IST(9/4/2012)
Last Updated: 23:42 IST(9/4/2012)
F1 was at the peak of its popularity in America in the early 1980s with venues like Long Beach, California. Getty images

They used to tell all the immigrants in the United States to "Go West" to make their fortunes. Many did. Now the sprightly 81-year-old Bernie Ecclestone looks like he is about to follow the same advice.

For the last 10 years Ecclestone's Formula 1 circus has been spending lots of time in Asia, as Mr E has tried to grab himself a slice of the new wealth being generated in the East.  He has been fairly dismissive of Europe and has been frustrated by Formula 1's failure to establish itself in the United States market. The signs are that Ecclestone is now going after the US with a rather more strategic plan.

American problem
Formula 1 used to have three races in the US back in 1982 with one in Long Beach, one in Detroit and one in Las Vegas, and at that time there were also races in Canada and Brazil, making a total of five in the American time zone. That was more than a quarter of the races, so there is no reason why there could not be a similar proportion in the future.

The problem has been finding US promoters who can figure out a way to raise the money needed to pay the race fees, particularly at the moment with many of the US states in a sorry financial situation and public money is very difficult to find. Now Bernie has found two promoters willing to try and that means there is a chance that he can cash in.

There are nine races in Europe and yet the North American market (including Canada and Mexico) is the same size in terms of population but has only two races in the time zone, in Canada and in Brazil. This year Formula One will add Austin, Texas and next year New Jersey will join the World Championship. And there are rumours that there will also be a new race on the streets of Mar del Plata in Argentina. On top of that there is much activity going on in Mexico where Carlos Slim Jr is keen to have a race, in order to allow Sergio Perez and coming man Esteban Gutierrez to perform before their home audience. There is also talk of F1 being discussed in the Dominican Republic.

Quest for TV viewers
Having six races in the US time zones and a similar number in Europe, which could be broadcast live in the morning on the East Coast of the United States, that would be enough to create a substantial TV audience for F1 in the US and add to the viewing figures in Central and South America.

A race in Argentina makes a lot of sense because it could be twinned with Brazil and would thus be more cost-effective than a single fly-away event. In future Canada can be twinned with New Jersey;  Mexico with Austin and Brazil with Argentina which would mean that F1 would get six races for the cost of three.

Argentine tango
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner seems to be keen. She is big on boosting national pride and a race would certainly help the economy.  Mar del Plata is the country's primary tourist destination, attracting seven million tourists a year. It has all the infrastructure that you need for a Grand Prix and its summer season is from December to February. Having a race in early December would help fill the city's 56,000 hotel rooms for another week and would show the world what a lovely place Mar del Plata is, and thus bring in my tourists from around the world.

The circuit would be a cheap and cheerful street track. There is a harbour area that needs perking up, with a cruise ship terminal that is being being built.

This is next to an old naval base and aerodrome, so there is plenty of space to put in a track in a parkland setting. There is even a yacht marina, not to mention a plaza where a huge Argentine flag flies. If all goes to plan the F1 cars would race around this. It is perfect.

Kirchner is up for re-election again in 2015 and so the deal that is being discussed is only for three years, but Bernie seems interested…

Going West seems like a fine idea.

The author has attended every grand prix for the last 25 years


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