autoracing 1 week ago

Future of Brazilian GP at Interlagos in doubt

The Associated Press — By MAURICIO SAVARESE - AP Sports Writer

SAO PAULO (AP) — The long-term future of the Brazilian Grand Prix is up in the air.

The Interlagos track, which hosted its first Formula One race in 1972, is due to be sold next year. Although F1 has a contract through 2020, no one seems to know what will happen after that.

"The contract will be respected because it is an obligation of whoever buys the track," said Sao Paulo Mayor Joao Doria, refusing to divulge who the buyers are. "We hope that afterward we are able to extend for another 10 years."

Doria said the sale of Interlagos, which sits on an area of almost one million square meters, is "irreversible" and should happen in early 2018. The track is expected to be preserved after the sale, while apartment buildings will be added to the complex.

Sao Paulo city councilors, however, have argued that the real estate could be more profitable after privatization, and that could mean the end for a track that was inaugurated in 1940.

As the potential new owners are unknown, they can't be asked what they think about the mayor's project for post-privatization.

Some estimate the sale of the Interlagos track, which many consider a burden to taxpayers because it hasn't been profitable in years, could raise up to $600 million.

Brazilian GP organizer Tamas Rohonyi said other venues could replace Interlagos in case the new owners fail to extend the contract with F1, but he did not provide details.

"What I am sure of is that without F1, Interlagos would be dead," Rohonyi said. "And we just don't know who will be at the table to discuss that."

Rohonyi said he thinks the unknown new owners will want to keep F1 at Interlagos, while Formula One boss Chase Carey said "there is a great future for Brazil in F1."

The Brazilian GP has struggled with low TV ratings at home and dwindling sponsorship. Next season, there will be no local driver on the grid for the first time since 1969, which could make Brazilians even less interested.

But tickets sales were brisk again this year, despite little being at stake since Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton had already won the title.

Another issue at Interlagos is security, something that made headlines this year after members of the Mercedes team said they were mugged at gunpoint as they left track.

Doria said privatization will make the track safer and organizers more accountable.

The mayor's confidence did not stop British team McLaren and tire supplier Pirelli from cancelling a test at Interlagos this week due to security concerns.

After the race on Sunday, staff from Pirelli were targeted, but escaped unharmed.

"Following a robbery attempt, neutralized by Pirelli security, on a Pirelli member at the Interlagos circuit last Sunday - after a weekend where similar episodes occurred with other teams - it has been decided to cancel the tire test planned on Tuesday and Wednesday," the Italian company said in a statement on Monday.

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