U.S. GP cancellation is a big loss, says promoter

(Reuters) - The cancellation of the U.S. Grand Prix is a big loss for Texas but Austin’s Circuit of the Americas will aim to attract more fans next year, promoter Bobby Epstein said on Friday after Formula One’s announcement.

FILE PHOTO: Lewis Hamilton of Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes W10 crosses the finish line to finish second and be crowned World Champion during the F1 Grand Prix of USA at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas on November 3, 2019. Mark Ralston/Pool via REUTERS

The sport scrapped all four races in North and South America due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a blow for the sport’s hopes in a region it views as key for future growth.

The absence also of Mexico, Canada and Brazil from the calendar means 2020 will be the first season the global sport, whose championship started in 1950, has not had a round in the Americas.

“We sold out last year, we would’ve expected to sell out this year and next year we’ll hopefully go and make room for even bigger capacity,” Epstein told Austin’s American-Statesman newspaper.

Epstein said the sole U.S. race, hosted at the Austin circuit since 2012, had an estimated direct impact of $392 million on the local economy and $880 million in direct, indirect and induced spending.

The MotoGP motorcycle series had already cancelled its round at COTA, the only purpose-built F1 venue in the United States, this month.

Epstein said everyone agreed it was too risky to spend millions on shipping freight to Texas in the current climate.

“You really would be betting now on the situation getting a lot better, and I don’t think anyone’s willing to place that bet,” he said.

Austin may not be the only U.S. race when Formula One returns, with Miami pencilled in as a second venue for 2021.

The Indianapolis 500 was included as part of the championship from the first season in 1950 until 1960 and a U.S. Grand Prix featured at a variety of venues from 1959 to 1991 and then again from 2000-07 before returning in 2012.

Sao Paulo Mayor Bruno Covas said he respected the decision to cancel.

The contract at Interlagos ends this year but Covas said talks with F1 continued for 2021.

Canadian Grand Prix president Francois Dumontier told CBC that his race, a home one for Racing Point’s Lance Stroll and Williams’ Nicholas Latifi, needed spectators to make it financially viable.

“The turning point was at the moment when public health authorities said if the event took place, it would have to happen without spectators,” he said.

Writing by Alan Baldwin in London, additional reporting by Eduardo Simoes in Sao Paulo and Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Pritha Sarkar