COTA sees potential for something special in surprise prospect of F1 doubleheader

The prospect of hosting two Formula 1 races at Circuit of The Americas this year came as a complete surprise to Bobby Epstein, but gives Austin the potential to deliver something special, says COTA’s chairman.

The cancellation of the Singapore Grand Prix saw COTA enter the frame as a potential replacement, with RACER understanding F1 is considering back-to-back races in Texas this fall. However, Epstein — who attended the Spanish Grand Prix last month — admits the only discussions regarding such a scenario were very brief, and so the recent reports came somewhat out of the blue.

“It was a complete surprise to hear that and to read that in the press,” Epstein told RACER. “And I think if it was intended then the way you would know that it wasn’t pure speculation is we would have been prepared for all the incoming questions and calls and requests for tickets and vendors and track rentals who all had questions about what’s happening!

“So we woke up to that on the morning that it all came out. The only conversation that was ever had about it was one that every promoter — that has a permanent circuit at least — who has had a race on the calendar over the last two seasons has had, which is, ‘If we wanted to do it, would it be possible?’

“At some point it was just asked, ‘If we had the situation, would you guys be interested?’ and we said, ‘Sure.’ That was weeks ago.

“We’ve talked (with F1) since but not really on that subject because I don’t think they’re really at the point where they’re ready to discuss that. I have the feeling they have their hands full.”

Just because the discussions have yet to be specific doesn’t mean Epstein isn’t keen on the idea, as he believes both F1 and Austin would benefit greatly from a doubleheader. So far, any F1 doubleheaders at the same venue during the COVID-19 pandemic have been held behind closed doors, but having already sold out this year’s race, Epstein thinks it’s a huge opportunity for a U.S.-focused event.

“If it were good for the sport we’d do all we could do, and I think it would be good,” he said. “We want them to be healthy financially, we want the fans to consume as much Formula 1 excitement as they can — so that’s a positive — and it would mean more hotel rooms and visitors to our city. So all in all if the opportunity is there we should try and see if we can make it work.

“There is potential to do something special. There are activations and sponsors that could really engage and get into the possibility of 10 days of Formula 1, or potentially more. I think we’d have more people interested in putting together and putting on more activation, exhibitions, displays — I think we could activate the whole city around it downtown by creating a big F1 fan zone that would really make for a spectacular event.”

Epstein reckons converting the USGP into a doubleheader could be a springboard for incorporating more fan and sponsor activations at COTA.

However, Epstein admits the time it would take to put together such an event means COTA will need a decision from F1 as soon as possible, but he says the track can still host a second race even at the last-minute if required.

“It depends upon what that event looks like. The track, we can shuffle things around probably on the calendar. If we were to do something like we do for the normal United States Grand Prix, we’re already partway down that runway. To hire the thousands of people, the logistics, it’s hard.

“I don’t think it would be certainly the same event as we would have the next weekend — that already has all the programming and the artists and the music — but the racing could still be exciting. I would just see it as a different event, I don’t know if they contemplate support races; you’d have to define for me what it is that they want to do. But the seats will be in place, the track is there and the excitement would certainly be there.

“We can always do the races, even shortly before. Everything else you add into make it an even more spectacular, special event — that one the clock is already running on.”