Formula 1 wants to be in Brazil. It is a traditional venue and there have been Brazilian drivers in the sport, on a regular basis, for more than 40 years. But the old Interlagos facility in Sao Paulo has long needed a revamp, although Bernie Ecclestone always forgets this fact when he is criticising Silverstone. Interlagos has now fallen so far behind the other F1 circuits that there is beginning to be pressure and a plan has been floated to re-profile the last corners, where two touring car drivers have been killed in recent years and to build a new pit and paddock facility on the back straight. But will that actually happen? Brazil is also renowned for getting away with delay after delay, on the basis that F1 needs the country. At the moment there is a deal in place for the race at Interlagos until 2015 and a new contract will likely be dependent on changes being made.
It must be remembered that Interlagos has been a racing facility since 1939 and that its existence as a circuit is owed to the fact that the unstable hillside on which it is build was deemed unsuitable for housing when property developers built in the area. Rather than waste time on a circuit design, they simply took the ideas which had been used for Roosevelt Field, on Long Island, near New York, and adapted them to the available land. The track has been revamped somewhat since the 1970s but the spirit remains much as it was. The facility was engulfed by the expanding city in the late 1970s as shanty towns were build all around it, but the area has improved somewhat in the last 15 years, although sections of the approach are still relatively hazardous, as F1 folk have found out in a series of attacks in recent years – although there was no hint of trouble this year.
No-one wants to see Interlagos disappear, as it remains a challenging circuit, but there are people who believe that Brazil would do better to shift the race to a new site, in order to publicise the other side of life in Brazil: golden beaches and plenty of sunshine. The country’s major tourist destinations are the beach resorts on the south coast. These have very high occupancy during the summer months (the European winter) but are quiet for much of the year. The vast majority of the tourism is domestic and of the small group of international visitors, 72 percent come from Argentina, 11 percent from Paraguay and eight percent from Chile and Uruguay. European and long-haul visitors are headed by Portugal, but that amounts to only two percent of the international visitors. The local authorities have identified tourism as a key growth area for the economy. It is in the light of this knowledge that the announcement that Beto Carrero World is building an international level racing facility is fairly interesting. It is being designed by Hermann Tilke.
Beto Carrero World is the largest theme park in Latin America. It is located at Penha, in the state of Santa Catarina, which is on the Atlantic coast between Curitiba and Florianopolis. The park was opened in 1991 and has been expanding ever since. There is plenty of room for expansion as it sits on a 5.4 sq mile site. The facility opened an international kart circuit last year and it recently became the venue of the annual Granja Viana 500 km kart race.
The park has been run since 2008 by Alex Murad and his sister Juliana, following the death of their father João Batista Murad, a cowboy who has traveled the world performing several shows, including Las Vegas. After a visit to Walt Disney World in Florida, he returned to Brazil, intent on building a similar facility. The business has expanded slowly but recent economic growth in Brazil has increased the number of people able to afford to visit and last year the park had a turnover of $50 million.
As part of the expansion since Murad’s death, the park has embraced motorsport. In addition to the kart race, the venue will host rounds of the FIM Motocross MX1 and MX2 Championships in May next year.
The current plan is to build the track in the next couple of years and then bid for a round of the IndyCar Series. If all goes to plan, the facility will end up being rather similar to Suzuka, with the race track adjoining the theme park, and able to share some facilities.
However, if the local government is interested, F1 might be a better option in the longer term.