Ecclestone’s antics should ease pain of Indy’s F1 loss

Nobody, it seems, quite knows how to undermine his business partners like Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone.

The way Ecclestone has treated the folks in Austin, Texas, this month has to make Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials at least a little happy they no longer do business with the man known as the Poison Dwarf.

Certainly Indianapolis misses the big-spending F1 visitors who used to come annually for the F1 race at the Speedway. And the loss of a $100 million economic impact is never a laughing matter.

But the cost of not having to deal with Ecclestone has to at times seem priceless. The headaches that go with doing business with Ecclestone were on display in Austin the past two weeks.

Ecclestone told team owners in India earlier this month that he has serious concerns about the Austin race, set for 2012. He later reiterated that message to the world-wide media that follows F1.

“We are trying,” he told reporters at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. “It is a bit of an uphill struggle but we will try and get there. There are two parties. One has got a track and is building it, and the other has got the contract. And they forgot to talk to each other.”

This all came as a big surprise to race promoters in Austin.

“Our funding is secured, and construction is on schedule, so we don't understand Mr. Ecclestone's comments,” said Steve Sexton, president of the Circuit of the Americas. “He has expressed great interest in the Austin race and in expanding the F1 brand into the United States.”

Who knows what Ecclestone’s motives are. Maybe there’s a race in Turkey that suddenly looks attractive, and Ecclestone is thinking about ditching Austin in favor of that. It wouldn’t be the first time Ecclestone has pitted one potential race site against another.

For all anybody knows, maybe Ecclestone has merely decided he doesn’t like Tex-Mex food.

But it all sounds so familiar to those of us in Indianapolis.

Ecclestone came here promising to use the U.S. Grand Prix at Indianapolis to grow the sport in North America. IMS chief Tony George built him a track and other expensive infrastructure—to the tune of $75 million—and cut F1 a sweetheart deal which assured the series took all the broadcast money and more.

After a one-year honeymoon in 2000, Ecclestone promptly came in, scoffed at Indy’s home-spun charm, criticized the city’s airport, and blasted the way the event was being marketed and the way locals were embracing the great F1 race.

Not surprisingly, attendance waned. It’s not clear which came first, Ecclestone’s critical outlook on this city or locals’ lost interest in the race. An F1-born Michelin tire fiasco in 2005 certainly didn’t help.

After toying with the city and IMS officials, Ecclestone took his cars and went home after the 2007 F1 race at the famed Brickyard.

Sure there were some things the city and IMS could have improved. But did anyone really think Austin could do it better than Indy? I suppose it’s possible.

But gauging from the way this city has pegged much of its growth on a sports-centered strategy, it didn’t seem like a good bet that Ecclestone would be any happier in a Lone Star city that doesn’t boast half of Indy’s experience in pulling off prime-time sports events.

When it comes to Ecclestone, there’s only one guarantee.

It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

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