Austin F1 race doomed to fail
You’ve heard of cars burning up the asphalt. That might become a reality if Formula One races are held in Austin in June. Remember the heat for F1 in Dallas and Phoenix, or Champ Car in Houston and Cleveland - all hot races where fans could not stand the heat and refused to return.
F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone raised the possibility of a June race in a Q&A on the sport’s official website along with Tavo Hellmund, whose Full Throttle Productions is promoting the annual races that are scheduled for at least 10 years starting in 2012.
According to the article:
Q: Bernie, have you already been thinking of a slot for the 2012 race in the calendar?
BE: We have to wait and see, but it would be logical to place it close to the race in Montreal and that would mean somewhere in June.
TH: Of course I have a preference, but feel confident that Bernie will do what is best for us to ensure the success of the USGP.
I know what you’re thinking: June? But what about the heat? Fans will melt in the stands. Cars will burst into flames on the starting grid.
It’s hot in June, there’s no question about that. But how hot does it get?
For the past five years, the average high temperature at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport has been 94 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the National Weather Service.
It was close to that this year, with an average high of 93.3, records show.
But last year the average high was 97.9, including 11 straight days of triple-digit heat. In 2008, the average high also was 97.9.
The service doesn’t keep humidity records, but we all know it’s sticky here. Not exactly the greatest conditions to watch an F1 race, and I haven’t even mentioned the drivers who will be roasting in their cockpits.
So why June?
As Ecclestone said, June would put Austin near the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal, which is traditionally held in early June.
It takes a lot of time, effort and, of course, cash to move the entire F1 circus to a race, so maximizing the time spent on a continent makes sense.
There are currently 19 races on the F1 schedule, a number that is expected to grow in 2011 with the Indian Grand Prix and in 2012 with Austin, barring none fall off the schedule. Races are run from early March to late November, with a break for most of August.
The schedule has changed over the years, but generally has followed a pattern that starts in Australia, Asia or Brazil, with a middle section in Europe and Canada and ends back in Asia or Brazil. (I’m including the Middle East with Asia.)
When F1 races were held at Indianapolis Motor Speedway from 2000 to 2007, the race was held either in September or a week after Canada in June.
Fall or spring would be ideal for an F1 race in Austin, when temperatures are cool, winds are light and there are occasional thunderstorms but mostly plenty of sunshine.
Autumn, however, presents a not-too insignificant challenge for F1 here in the United States: American football. Trying to draw in viewers for qualifying on Saturday (college football) and a race on Sunday (NFL) would be an uphill battle to say the least.
Further, Austin would reach critical mass if an F1 race were scheduled on the same weekend as a UT football game. Try to imagine that hotel and traffic nightmare.
Drivers, teams and even Ecclestone have said Formula One needs to build a larger fan base in the U.S. Pitting it against the country’s top sport would be pretty tough.
Which leaves April or May as ideal times for Austin.
But May brings up a possible conflict with Monaco, F1’s flagship race that has traditionally fallen on the Sunday after Ascension Day, or six weeks after Easter Sunday.
Looking ahead, between 2012 to 2022, Easter falls in April nine times, the latest being April 21, 2019. If Monaco were held six weeks later, it would start no earlier than May 8, 2016, and as late as June 2, 2019. (See table below)
To keep Monaco in that May timeframe, to keep Canada in early June and to keep Austin close to Canada, Austin would have to be held around June. Ouch.
If so, it’d be best if Austin fell before Canada and after Monaco.
Under that scenario, Austin’s race would fall as early as May 22 and as late as June 16 between 2012 and 2022. During that time, Canada would fall as early as June 3 and as late as June 23. My point is that the earlier you can schedule Austin’s race, the better, even if it’s by a week or two.
Of course, F1 can do what it wants and what it feels is best. It’s split the U.S. and Canada before. It splits European stops with Canada regularly, and Asia is routinely split between the beginning and end of the season.
Austin’s place on the calendar won’t be known until likely late next year, and as Ecclestone said: “We have to wait and see.”
The hope is that, if Austin is scheduled for June, organizers don’t wait and see fans baking in the Texas sun before building covered grand stands. The statesman