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Epstein biding his time for new COTA contract

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Epstein biding his time for new COTA contract

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By Alan Baldwin

LONDON (Reuters) - Circuit of the Americas (COTA) chairman Bobby Epstein believes he has time on his side when it comes to negotiating a new contract for the U.S. Formula One Grand Prix in Austin.

The Texas track's existing deal, agreed with Formula One's former supremo Bernie Ecclestone, runs to 2021 with an annual escalator clause.

COTA chairman Epstein would like to secure better terms from the sport's new U.S.-based owners Liberty Media, as do other promoters in the global series who have long complained that high hosting fees make it hard to turn a profit.

Liberty's eagerness to add a race in Miami, possibly as soon as next year, could see a change to the old business model with media reports suggesting that deal will have shared risk and revenues.

"I think there are nine or 10 circuits that have to renew their deals before we do," Epstein told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"So I am sure by the time ours comes up, there’ll be a lot more precedents set.

"And you know, hopefully the sport will have taken off in the U.S. (by then) and the reliance on the promoter income might not have to be as heavy."

Hockenheim, which hosts this weekend's German Grand Prix and is in the last year of its contract, has already said it cannot continue unless any new deal is risk-free.

Silverstone, home of the British Grand Prix, has a year remaining on its contract having exercised a break clause, while even countries like Azerbaijan that pay more than most are seeking revised terms.

Liberty see the United States as a key market for the sport's growth and are keen to add at least a second race.

COTA is the country's only purpose-built Formula One facility.

CROWDS AND CONCERTS

Epstein, who said he was not planning on starting conversations about a new F1 deal until much closer to the 2020 race, also has a MotoGP contract to renew but he was not worried about that.

"MotoGP is a great event for us and we’re not going to lose it," he said.

COTA has drawn big crowds to the F1 race by putting on big-name concerts on the Saturday and Sunday to drive sales of family tickets.

Epstein said this year's headliners Bruno Mars and Britney Spears meant sales were "on top of where they were last year" when Justin Timberlake and Stevie Wonder topped the bill.

He added, however, that the circuit was almost 'maxed out' as far as the concert crowd and future growth would have to come from increasing the sport's popularity.

Miami, he said, might siphon off some fans but would be good in the long run.

"I certainly think there’s a core group of the curious fans, just as we saw the first year of our event, who want to go experience the new," he said.

"And they will go to Miami and I hope Miami will be a great success because the bigger the success Miami is, the better it is for the sport. So that will lift all of us. At least that’s the hope."

The Miami Grand Prix is by no means a certainty, but Epstein felt something would be sorted for 2020 if not next year.

The uncertainty has meant a 2019 draft Formula One calendar has yet to be published, with Liberty waiting on the Florida city before confirming any dates.

If Miami happens then it would be scheduled with Austin, Mexico and Brazil in a sequence for the later part of the season, with Canada retaining a June slot.

"I’ve a feeling they’ve got their schedule and calendar fairly well pencilled in," said Epstein, who added that the date of the Austin race -- on Oct. 21 this year -- could change.

"They’ve mentioned the possibility of a (date) change to us," he said. "Within three weeks either way of our existing date. It might be early November."

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)

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