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Bernie Ecclestone, president and CEO of Formula One Management, left, shakes hands with Mercedes driver Michael Schumacher of Germany in the paddock ahead the Emirates Formula One Grand Prix at the Yas Marina racetrack in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2011. The head of Formula One expressed doubts on Saturday whether the 2012 United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, will go ahead as scheduled. (Luca Bruno/AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
Bernie Ecclestone, president and CEO of Formula One Management, left, shakes hands with Mercedes driver Michael Schumacher of Germany in the paddock ahead the Emirates Formula One Grand Prix at the Yas Marina racetrack in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2011. The head of Formula One expressed doubts on Saturday whether the 2012 United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, will go ahead as scheduled. (Luca Bruno/AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

Motorsports

Formula One race in Texas on death row Add to ...

Canadian race fans worried that two F1 races in the U.S. might put Montreal’s grand prix in jeopardy can breathe a sigh of relief.

That’s because Texans likely have a better chance of surviving death row in a state that’s perennially No. 1 in executions than seeing an F1 car driving anywhere near the Austin Grand Prix circuit.

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The upcoming U.S. Grand Prix at Austin is on life support after Bernie Ecclestone signed its death sentence earlier this week after a dispute between the promoter and the track owner stopped all construction on the Circuit of the Americas.

And that’s good news for Canadian F1 fans, whose race will likely be twinned with the one in New Jersey that’s set to debut in 2013, something that should help it survive in the long run. Having two “flyaway races” together helps the F1 teams based in Europe lower their costs. Montreal’s huge popularity in the F1 paddock also helps.

Earlier this week, the F1 ringmaster Ecclestone said that unless a deal can be reached by early next month, he’d remove Austin from the 2012 calendar. Translation: Pay up or he'll pull the plug.

In December the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile’s World Motor Sport Council will meet to finalize the 2012 schedule, which includes a November stop in Austin.

At issue is a $25-million advance fee owed to Formula One Management that was supposed to come through a state government fund, which has now balked at the amount following the announcement of a second U.S. race in New Jersey.

Texas feels the second race — apparently something that never came up while Ecclestone was negotiating his deal with Austin — might significantly lower tax the revenues needed to recoup the public money poured in.

“The recent announcement of an annual F1 race in New Jersey is a concern, as additional races have the potential to reduce the number of attendees to a Texas race, thereby decreasing the economic impact,” Texas comptroller Susan Combs said in a statement.

“Additionally, the reports of a slowdown in construction at the Circuit of the Americas, and recently publicized disagreements between the race rights-holder and the circuit developers have prompted speculation about whether the Austin race will even occur.”

The dispute among the organizers arose after Ecclestone signed a 10-year promotion deal with his close friend Tavo Hellmund for the Austin circuit, despite the fact that his buddy had no circuit to hold an F1 race. Enter the separate Circuit of the Americas group, which began building the track and subsequently decided it should also run the show.

Somewhere along the way, Hellmund’s contract was cancelled and Ecclestone began talks with the track builders to run the event. Apparently things haven’t gone well in that area as Ecclestone said this week that there’s a 100 per cent chance the race will be cancelled.

And now that Ecclestone has finally secured a race in the New York City area that he’s coveted for years, Austin becomes a nice to have, but no longer a must.

Now, cynics might say that the Austin race was never going to happen and Hellmund’s involvement came at the behest of his good friend Ecclestone. After all, the F1 boss needed to show the New York folks that other U.S. cities were chomping at the bit to host a race, so they’d better make a deal before another venue snapped up the second calendar slot on offer.

It wouldn’t be the first time Ecclestone played footsie with one track to force another’s hand. Remember that he signed a 17-year deal to run the British Grand Prix at Donington Park beginning in 2010, which never came to fruition after the track failed to raise the money it needed to improve its facilities.

Then, Ecclestone went back to the British race’s traditional Silverstone Circuit home and signed a long-term agreement with it, but only after getting the track to commit to spending millions of dollars on upgrades and improvements. Funny thing: Donington’s owner, Tom Wheatcroft, was one of Ecclestone’s old friends too.

Wickens impresses in F1 Young Drivers Test

Robert Wickens, Canada’s best hope of getting a driver in F1, put up the third quickest time on the first day of the annual F1 Young Drivers Test at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.

Driving for Renault as a reward for his 2011 World Series by Renault title, Wickens put a car that was likely the sixth fastest on track into a top-three spot on the timing sheets. His quickest time was 1:42.217 in the 78 laps he did on his first full day of F1 testing.

Wickens’ best effort finished his first day behind the world championship-winning Red Bull and a Ferrari but ahead of both McLarens and a Mercedes. All four teams are well ahead of Renault in the F1 standings. His time was 1.5 seconds faster than the two other drivers who tested for Renault on Wednesday and Thursday.

He returned to the track in Abu Dhabi Thursday where it was a different story driving for backmarker Marussia Virgin. Wickens’ time with the team was only good enough to put him 13th out of 14 drivers on Thursday.

While Wickens may have spent his last test day behind the wheel of a dog disguised as an F1 car, he made his ride go four-tenths of a second quicker than the best time than any other Marissia Virgin driver could manage. It was also 2.6 seconds faster than he ran in his first official F1 session last Friday in opening practice for last weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

For more from Jeff Pappone, go to facebook.com/jeffpappone (No login required!)

Twitter: @jpappone

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