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10 minutes with Tavo Hellmund: The man who brought F1 back to the US


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10 minutes with Tavo Hellmund: The man who brought Formula 1 back to the US - Hellmund reveals details about the 2015 Mexican Grand Prix and what's next


by Mac Morrison, Autoweek


(October 28, 2014) - Tavo Hellmund, 48, is responsible for the creation of Circuit of the Americas near Austin, Texas, where in 2012 we saw Formula One return to the United States. Despite a falling-out with his COTA investors in which he left the group before the circuit hosted its first race, Hellmund remains a serious player in Grand Prix business. His latest effort: the Mexican Grand Prix’s revival at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City.


We sat down with him for an update.


Autoweek: We seem to run into you in Austin rather frequently, but it also seems as though you’re rarely there …


Tavo Hellmund: I’ve been spending a lot of time south of the border and a lot of time overseas—and not enough time at home with my kids and my wife!



Tavo Hellmund, the man behind the creation of Circuit of the Americas, is now turning his attentions to the Mexican Grand Prix and the Autódromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City. Callie Richmond photo



AW: Much of that travel is related to the 2015 Mexican Grand Prix, something you are a founding partner of; how did it come together and how is everything progressing?


TH: You know really, kind of in 2011 [F1 boss] Bernie [Ecclestone] asked me what I thought about the prospects of Mexico, and I told him that my hands were full. But then with the way things started to go with my situation at COTA, I thought there might be an opportunity. [F1 now has] two Mexican drivers, Mexico had a new president coming in, my original partners in COTA being Mexican … it was just all the stars lining up. Where we are right now? We’re on the 2015 F1 calendar, the old pit building has been completely demolished, everything is 100 percent on the time schedule and there will be a Grand Prix on Nov. 1 of next year [the week after the United States Grand Prix].



The Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City is the site for the future Mexican Grand Prix. Tavo Hellmund, founding partner of the event, is touting it as the best on the Formula One calendar. Above, the green represents the old track layout and the red the new.



AW: How close are you going to cut it in terms of the timeline?


TH: It’s an aggressive timeline simply because of kind of similar positions as to where we were with COTA a year out, or 14 months out. The only difference is we had a pit building here, we didn’t have an open field [like in Texas]. We had to knock down the pit building in Mexico; that’s already happened. We will make it but, you know, we might be having to screw in the light bulbs on Thursday before the Grand Prix.



AW: You’re using a famous old racetrack. What shape was it in and how much work did/does it need for F1?


TH: It’s a pretty significant undertaking. The soil conditions are not good—that must be a theme of mine because that was the case in Austin. Not clay conditions here but a dry lakebed, so the track will be completely resurfaced. Five or six corners, the radii will be changed. [There will be a] brand new pit building, brand new press center, brand new medical center. The entire paddock is going to be new. Grandstands will be added, but the current grandstands will remain, as well. [The track has] zero elevation [change], it’s a long front straightaway, hard-braking zone into turn one and there’s a really interesting section—turns four, five, six, seven—kind of a stadium section, but it’s significantly quicker than than [the] Hockenheim or COTA stadium sections. It’s also got a nice flowing section of corners, the esses, that get progressively quicker.



AW: What about …


TH: Yeah, we wanted to try to keep the famous Peraltada corner that [Ayrton] Senna flipped on his lid on [in 1991], but we just couldn’t do it. From the business-model side, we needed that section—which is through a baseball stadium—for the seats. And quite frankly, we wouldn’t be able to have enough runoff area for the FIA to approve Peraltada [under today’s safety standards] because we can’t make the runoff area bigger, it’s a public street on the other side of the fence. But the circuit will be fairly quick, and it is going to be just a hair under three miles, like 2.8 or 2.9.



AW: Who are the investors? Who’s actually paying for this to happen? You’re used to these questions, especially after all the debate surrounding the funding of COTA and its F1 race.


TH: It’s really a partnership between CIE (Corporación Interamericana de Entretenimiento), the third largest entertainment company in the world—they do 1,800 events a year—and the Mexican government. There’s a lot of prominent people who are investors in CIE. (Editor’s note: The Slim family is believed to be among them.) We’ve got a good relationship with the president, Enrique Peña Nieto; he’s a young, dynamic guy that wants to change the perception of the country.


AW: What type of investment has this required?


TH: One of my partners, I believe he said the investment is, between private and government, somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 million. ... The track [cost] will be less than half that. So it’s substantial, but it’s still a number that actually is realistic, and there can be a profit made.


AW: What type of event should we be expecting to see?


TH: Mexico City’s not Austin. You know that I’m partial to Austin; it’s my hometown, and COTA’s my baby, so you can’t duplicate COTA. It’s one of a kind. But the Mexican Formula One Grand Prix will probably be the best event of the Formula One calendar. I think obviously I’m going to be partial and say Circuit of the Americas is, if not the best racetrack in America, it’s arguably the best racetrack in America. I’ve always felt that a really well-promoted race in Austin would get 150,000 people on race day. For whatever reason, it hasn’t been that, but I’ll be awfully disappointed if we don’t have 130,000 on race day in Mexico and 350,000 for the three days of the weekend.



AW: Speaking of COTA, and now Mexico, you’re the only person in the world who, in the span of just a few years, has pulled off two new F1 races. The first shovel went into the ground at COTA on Dec. 31, 2010, and Mexico will host its first race on Nov. 1, 2015—so just under five years there. Are you now the guru of launching F1 circuits and events? What’s next, the much-talked-about-but-never-happens F1 race in New York?


TH: [Laughs] I think like all of us in motor racing, New York is obviously a market anyone would be attracted to. If the NFL could have the Super Bowl in New York every year I think they would do it, right?

You know, as I said back in 2010, I think one of the problems with New York is just simply that the market is sort of already served with Montreal, that region. But if Bernie asked me to help him in New York, I certainly would. But what’s in store for me? After the first Mexican Grand Prix, I’m hoping the Late Model that I finish building by then will be ready and I can go have some fun racing myself again.


Note: Mac Morrison is Autoweek’s senior editor for Motorsports covering racing at all levels, from club events to NASCAR, IndyCar, NHRA and Formula One. He also contributes to Autoweek’s coverage and testing of new cars and the automotive industry. Follow him on Twitter @Mac_Morrison.

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I now have a visa and will be doing my best to make it to the Mexico event even though I still refuse to support CoTA by showing up there even though I could have obtained free press credentials...



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