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Miami GP seen as risk to COTA, but event could be in jeopardy

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Bobby Epstein, the man behind the Circuit of the Americas in Austin and the US Grand Prix, sees Miami's possible presence on the F1 calendar as potentially diluting the sport's American fan base, but will a race in the Magic City happen?

In its quest to build Formula 1's business in the US, commercial rights holder Liberty Media is working hard to make a race in Miami happen, with a prospective slot on the calendar inevitably scheduled, for logistics reasons, for October, in the vicinity of Austin and Mexico City.

Epstein, who says that COTA already experienced a fall in ticket sales when the Mexican GP returned to the calendar, believes the US GP's attendance could once again potentially get hit by fans choosing Miami over Austin, at least in the mid-term.

"I think in the long term it can be good. But there is a risk. There is clearly a risk to diluting the product before the fan base has increased," the US promoter told Motorsport.com.

"But when the long term goal is to increase the fan base, it is a chicken or egg scenario. Which comes first? In the early years it remains to be seen if that is a positive for us.

"The first year, you haven’t increased the fan base but you’ve increased the options, so it will be tough at first. We will see how it impacts us."

According to Epstein, much will depend on Liberty's ability to promote F1 to its US fan base in a very big way, and in the shortest time possible.

"There are hundreds of millions of people in North American so my mindset is to be optimistic," he explained.

"I’m certainly a little apprehensive, but very optimistic that it is a race against time as to whether or not you can build the fan base before the pain of splitting up the fans takes its toll.

"We want it to happen and we want it to happen fast. And I think we share that with Liberty."

 

Miami and Austin sitting close to each other on the F1 calendar only adds to the risks of dilution, says Epstein, but logistics take precedence for Liberty.

"We would obviously like to see us separated as far away from other races that are competing for the same fans, so we don’t force them to make a choice," said the American promoter.

"But logistically that has to make sense for everyone and it is tough to see a way around it.

"If you are in F1 management’s shoes from the standpoint of transportation and logistics, it is much easier if you put everyone back to back. But forcing the fan to choose is of no help to anyone."

Epstein's worries about the immediate future may be premature however. Back in May, Miami's City Commission was given the green light to negotiate a deal with The Formula One Group, with a July 1 deadline set by the city.

That date has come and passed without a contract being finalized between F1 and Miami, for reasons that are currently unknown.

However, since the announcement of a planned race in the Magic City, local authorities have been forced to contend with an upheaval of local residents of Miami's Bayfront Park area, located right in the path of the venue's proposed track. This bone of contention could be behind the contract delay.

"We are now waiting for the contract that the City Manager will present to the City Commission, but if we don't have a clear understanding of the benefits that the race will bring to the City of Miami, we will consider opposing the City Commission approving the contract," Andres Althabe, president of the Biscayne Neighborhoods Association, told Forbes.

Adding a second race in the US will be to the benefit of the fans and the sport, but promoters still have their work cut out for them.

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