Spanish GP: F1 will renegotiate fees for races without fans

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MADRID — Formula One organizers are open to renegotiating hosting fees for races that may take place without fans this season because of the coronavirus pandemic, the general manager of the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya said.

Joan Fontsere told The Associated Press that Liberty Media is “conscious” that if races need to go on without fans the contracts with event promoters will have to be somehow renegotiated.

“They are conscious that this is an exceptional situation,” Fontsere said. “We are obviously on the same page. If they want to keep some races on because of the TV rights, because of the teams … they know that our income (will be reduced), they realize that this year it will be like that, so for sure we are on the same page.”

He said Spanish Grand Prix organizers at this moment are not even considering a race with fans in Barcelona. He said it’s not only ticket sales that would be affected if the event goes on with empty stands and no hospitality suites.

“When the Catalan government invests in F1, it’s not only for the tickets that we sell, it’s also for the financial impact that the event has in the country, in Catalonia,” Fontsere said. “The economic impact for the country will be very reduced. It means no income for taxis, for hotels … so that changes completely the agreement between the two parties.”

Liberty Media did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Spanish GP brings in more than 160 million euros ($173 million) to the region, with the total of its financial impact during the year nearing 300 million euros ($325 million), according to data from the track. The attendance for last year’s race-weekend surpassed 160,000 people.

Fontsere said he received a couple of phone calls from F1 CEO Chase Carey to discuss possible solutions for the Spanish GP. He said Carey said the series is trying to run as many races as possible, but it was still too early to know when the season would actually resume, whether it would be in the summer or only in the fall.

Nine of the 22 races have already been postponed or canceled, and F1 recently put half of its staff on furlough until the end of May. Some teams also took similar actions to reduce costs.

F1 organizers have said they hope to hold between 15 and 18 races this year. The Australian GP and the Monaco GP have already been canceled.

Fontsere said the Spanish GP is “completely at the disposal” or organizers and is open to all proposals, be it doubleheaders, shortened weekends or almost anything else other than running on a reverse layout, as that would require too many complex changes to the track and could pose safety concerns.

Among the ideas reportedly being discussed in F1 is to have two or three consecutive races at the same circuit and to use fewer days of on-track activities. There were also talks about changing the format of qualifying and even races.

“We need to reduce two things: costs and risks,” Fontsere said. “So the fewer people we move, the smaller the risk, and the fewer days we use and the fewer activities we do, the lower the costs. It’s an exceptional season and exceptional decisions need to be taken.”

He said it is key to have as many races as possible this year in order to have a strong 2021 season, but he would understand if the Spanish GP was eventually left off the calendar. He was optimistic with its chances, though, considering its tradition, infrastructure and location.

Fontsere said he can get the Barcelona-Catalunya track ready for a race in “two to three weeks” and expects the Spanish GP to be among the first to resume.

“As soon as we can restart the season, I’m sure that it will be with European races,” he said, “and we will be around there.”

Kyle Busch interests McLaren for Indy 500, but team is leaning toward experience

McLaren Indy Kyle Busch
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With Arrow McLaren SP heavily weighing a fourth car for the Indy 500 next year, Kyle Busch is a candidate but not at the top of the IndyCar team’s list.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown addressed the possibility Wednesday morning during a video news conference with Gavin Ward, the team’s newly named racing director.

“I have not personally spoken with Kyle Busch, but you can read into that that someone else in our organization has,” Brown said. “We want to make sure if we run a fourth car, we’re in the mindset that we want someone that is experienced around the 500. It’s such an important race, and from a going for the championship point of view, we’ve got three drivers that we want to have finish as strong as possible, so if we ran a fourth car, we’d want to be additive, not only for the fourth car itself, but to the three cars and so bringing in someone who’s not done it before potentially doesn’t add that value from an experience point of view.”

Busch will race the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season in NASCAR under a new deal that will allow the two-time Cup Series champion to make his Indy 500 debut. Busch, who had a previous deal to run the Indy 500 nixed by Joe Gibbs Racing, openly courted Chevy IndyCar teams to contact him during his introductory news conference with RCR last month.

After Team Penske (which has given no indications of a fourth car at Indy alongside champion Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), McLaren is the second-best Chevy organization, and it’s fielded an extra Indy 500 car the past two years for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Associated Press reported last month that McLaren was in “serious conversation” about running Busch at Indy with Menards sponsorship.

But with its restructured management, the team is in the midst of significant expansion for 2023. AMSP is adding a third full-time car for 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to team with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and a massive new shop also is being built in the Indianapolis area.

“(It’s) not because of him but purely because of experience,” Brown said of Busch. “He’s an awesome talent and would be huge, huge news for the speedway. But yeah, I think everyone is under consideration if we decide to do it, but experience is right at the top of the list as far as what’s going to be the most important to us.”

And it seems likely there will be a veteran joining Rossi, O’Ward and Rosenqvist at the Brickyard.

“A fourth car at the 500 is very much under consideration,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even want to get ahead of ourselves, but we wouldn’t be ruling out a fourth car in the future on a full-time basis. That definitely wouldn’t be for ’23. But as we expand the team and get into larger facilities and things of that nature, it’s something that Gavin and I have spoken about.

“I think we would be in a position to run a fourth car at the 500 this upcoming year. If we do decide to do that, we’ll make that decision soon for maximum preparation, and I would say we’re open minded to a fourth car in ’24 and beyond and probably will make that decision middle of next year in time to be prepared if we did decide to do that.”

Brown also addressed the future of Alex Palou, who will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing next season after also signing a deal with McLaren. Though Brown declined to get into specifics about whether Palou had signed a new deal, he confirmed Palou will continue to test “our Formula One car from time to time.

“Everyone has reached an amicable solution,” Brown said. “We’ve now had Alex in our Formula One car as we have Pato. That will continue in the future, which we’re quite excited about. At this point we’re laser-focused on 2023 and glad to have the noise behind us and now just want to put our head down and get on with the job with the three drivers we have.”