Financial questions hound two of F1’s three races in North America

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – Two of Formula One’s (F1) three races in North America are facing financial issues that are raising concern about their future.

Organisers of the United States (US) Grand Prix won’t be reimbursed at least USD20 million from the state of Texas for the 2018 race after missing a paperwork deadline set by law. And new questions lurk about the future of the Mexican Grand Prix after the country’s new president suggested the government may not spend on the race like it has the last four years.

Both races have been popular with drivers and fans, and enjoy key dates on the F1 calendar. Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton clinched season championships in Texas in 2015 and in Mexico City in 2017 and 2018.

Officials in F1 and at the Circuit of the Americas, host of the US Grand Prix, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.

Both races get huge financial support from the government.

The US Grand Prix has reaped about USD150 million since 2012 from Texas’ Major Events Reimbursement Programme, which is controlled by Governor Greg Abbott’s office. That money has been considered critical to paying F1’s annual rights fee to host the race. In 2015, Track President Bobby Epstein said a USD5 million reduction that year could have jeopardised the future of the race, but it has survived.

Officials at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin have known for months the 2018 money wasn’t coming. Track officials were informed in an October 8, 2018 letter – 11 days before the US Grand Prix – that race organisers would not get money from the fund because they had missed a state-mandated deadline to submit an anti-human trafficking plan 30 days before the event. That plan wasn’t submitted until October 3, 2018 and a previous letter of temporary approval was rescinded.

Two months later, Epstein contributed USD50,000 to Abbott, who had just won re-election.

The state requires major events that apply to the fund to have anti-human trafficking plans in part to help combat spikes in prostitution. The missed deadline and lost money were first reported on Wednesday by the Austin American-Statesman. Abbott’s office provided a copy of the letter to the AP.

Epstein didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment. Abbott spokesman John Wittman said the state had no choice but to withhold the money.

Any future damage to the US Grand Prix is yet to be measured and could still be mitigated. Wittman said the state is already working with race organisers to plan for the 2019 race. F1 has it on the calendar for November 3 with no suggestion it could be wiped out.

The F1 season starts on March 17 at the Australian Grand Prix.

“The State of Texas and COTA have a productive partnership that has had a tremendous economic impact on the city of Austin and the state as a whole, and our office is already working with COTA on next year’s race,” Wittman said.