The pressure is on in Formula 1 circles to get a United States Grand Prix back on the calendar as quickly as possible. The US is a huge consumer market and, despite the economic troubles of late, the average American has more money to spend than consumers elsewhere. The problem is that the only venue that can instantly host a race is Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which spent a fortune getting ready for F1 10 years ago. The race did all right, despite the best efforts of the F1 world to mess things up, notably in 2005 when most of the cars withdrew from the race because of fears over the safety of the tyres after attempts to find a compromise with the FIA failed. Looking back now it seems that the whole business was probably a power struggle between FIA President Max Mosley and F1 commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone. Whatever the case, F1’s failure to adhere to the age-old rule that “the show must go on”, did not end of harm to F1’s reputation in the United States. There was still a decent crowd in 2006 and 2007 but Indianapolis Motor Speedway boss Tony George was under pressure from his family to keep down costs – as he was shelling out fortunes to keep his Indy Racing League (IRL) alive – and he would not pay the sum demanded by Ecclestone for a new contract. So F1 turned its back on the Brickyard, saying that Indiana was not the place to entertain its high-flying corporate guests – a fair point. The problem is that since then Ecclestone has so far been unable to find anyone willing to pay the kind of money he wants for a race. The government has no interest in getting involved and states and cities acros the US are suffering because of the economic downturn. The only hope, therefore, is for Ecclestone to find a private investor who has something to gain from funding a race.
George, in the meantime, has been shipped out of Indianapolis by his family and is no longer involved. However, it seems that he has some control over the rights to the phrase “The United States Grand Prix at…”. This means that he could be involved in any other race wishing to use that name, be it in Alaska or New Mexico. The rights to such an event would normally belong to the national sporting authority – in this case, the Automobile Competition Committee of the United States (ACCUS) – but it seems that these were delegated to the IRL, an ACCUS member, when the race was being run at Indianapolis. It is not clear whether Ecclestone agreed not to have other race names, such as “The Washington Grand Prix” but it is logical that this would be part of such an agreement.
While Ecclestone is not keen to take F1 back to Indiana, he might be willing to do that to get F1 back into the US, particularly if such an arrangement led to a race being established elsewhere. The Hulman-George Family is not going to be wanting to spend more that Tony George was spending, so unless Ecclestone bring down his price the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is not really an option, unless someone else is willing to make up the difference between what Bernie wants and what the Speedway is willing to offer. And even if that happens the Speedway will always be in Indiana and the F1 corporate types will still not want to go there… Thus the recent visit to Shanghai of Tony George must be about more than simply another race at Indianapolis.
Ecclestone often says that he wants a race in New York. Recently he has talked specifically of a race in New Jersey, with the New York City skyline as a backdrop and easy access to the city by public transport. This can only mean that there are discussions going on with the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, New Jersey. This is owned and operated by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority (NJSEA), an independent body established by the State of New Jersey in 1971 to oversee the complex, which today consists of three main venues: the brand new 82,500-seat Meadowlands Stadium, which is the home of the New York Jets and New York Giants National Football League teams. This opened a few days ago and replaces the neighbouring Giants Stadium, which will now be demolished.
The complex also boasts the Meadowlands Racetrack (a popular horse racing facility) and the Izod Center, a multi-purpose indoor arena which has been home to the New Jersey Nets basketball team and the New Jersey Devils hockey team. It is also a popular venue for concerts. This has little future as the Devils and the Nets are moving elsewhere and it is located next to a new development called Meadowlands Xanadu, which aims to become the largest retail and entertainment complex in the United States when it is finally finished. This will offer not only a baseball stadium but also venues for concerts and indoor sporting events. There will also be entertainment, shopping and convention halls. It will feature America’s first indoor snow park, and a skydiving simulator. In addition there is to be a observation wheel (sponsored by Pepsi) which will provide views of Manhattan. The project will ultimately include four office blocks and a 520-room hotel.
This all sounds remarkably like the ingredients that have been put together in Singapore where hotel baron Ong Beng Seng worked with the local government to launch the super-successful Singapore GP, as it would benefit his hotels, restaurants and retail outlets. What is most interesting is that the Xanadu project is now funded by a private investment firm called Colony Capital, which owns a chain of 41 hotels and resorts around the world, operating under the Raffles, Swissotel and Fairmont names. Colony also operates gaming resorts in the US and is also the owner of the French soccer team Paris Saint-Germain, so it clearly understands the value of sport as a means of drawing customers to its businesses.
Meadowlands was used for Indycar racing in the early 1980s but two different tracks laid out in the parking lots failed to attract crowds and the race lapsed after 1991. Much has changed since then, however, and the most significant advance has been the construction of a rail link which opened last year with trains running to Secaucus Junction where there is a connecting service to Pennsylvania Station in New York City.
NASCAR has long been trying to get into Meadowlands but has thus far failed to do so (which would no doubt amuse Ecclestone). The local authorities may be happy to go along with such an idea as they clearly want a higher profile for the facility. They are bidding for the 2014 Super Bowl and are part of the US bid for the FIFA World Cup in either 2018 or 2022.
There are few environmental issues with a race track as the area is criss-crossed with major freeways, has no housing and a record of environmental misuse. It is under the flight path of Teeterboro Airport, New York’s executive jet facility, and of Newark Liberty International Airport, which is located 13 miles to the south-west.