Hurricane Patricia ravaged many parts of Mexico and the southern United States, and the storm did not care who it affected. It definitely did not spare the United States Grand Prix, which despite a solid organizing committee was plagued by bad weather. Although Lewis Hamilton achieved his lifelong dream by winning the race in Austin, Texas, organizers at the Circuit of the Americas (“COTA”) labelled the Grand Prix as “financially devastating.”
And now the state of Texas just cut their funding by nearly $5 million per year.
Poor weather conditions resulting from Patricia wreaked absolute havoc on the race’s venue over the entire weekend. COTA chairman Bobby Epstein admitted that, “It was a tough weekend,” to say the least. Putting it mildly, Epstein said the event was not as successful as organizers would have liked.
The storm brought torrential downpours and electrical storms to the track. At one point due to safety concerns, fans were actually locked outside of the track as cars ran through practice laps in front of empty stands. Other fans remained in their seats despite the terrible weather – only to not see a single lap.
The third practice was abandoned altogether due to the heavy rains. Moreover, the qualifying session scheduled for Saturday was moved to race day morning. Even then, it was red flagged due to the unsafe driving conditions.
To make matters worse, the race-day crowd numbers were the lowest in the four-year history of the Grand Prix in Texas. In each of the four years since it opened, the number of spectators has steadily declined. Sunday’s race attracted 101,667 attendees – down from almost 108,000 last year – and down around 16,000 from the 2012 inaugural event.
Epstein admitted that, “We lost millions on concessions” that fans would normally have purchased in regular weather conditions. “And we suffered from some fans having such a bad experience they won’t be back, though I hope we can change their mind.”
Another issue plaguing the United States Grand Prix was that, for the first time in history, it was accompanied by Mexico’s first grand prix after a 23-year absence. Epstein attributes to decline in the Texas numbers to the Mexico race and back-to-back race weekends. Epstein definitely believed that, “The Mexico race hurt [the COTA]” as the race has a tremendous local following.
While Epstein declined to reveal specific numbers, he estimates the Mexican population’s drop in attendance cost the track millions.