F1's Ecclestone says U.S. race could be held elsewhere in America

INDIANAPOLIS -- Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone is not sold on coming to America.

One day after Indianapolis race organizers said they hoped to sign a long-term agreement to keep the U.S. Grand Prix at the famed track, Ecclestone wrote a letter reiterating his position that an American race isn't a necessity for the globe-hopping F1 series.

"It is not vital to Formula One to be in the United States," Ecclestone wrote, the series' Web site reported Thursday. "There are bigger markets for us to be in other parts of the world. We could be in India soon instead of the United States."

Ecclestone voiced a similar opinion last summer before signing a one-year extension to continue racing at Indy. He was expected to arrive in Indianapolis on Thursday night.

Speedway president Joie Chitwood declined, through a spokesman, to respond to the letter.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, before the letter was made public, Chitwood said Ecclestone and speedway boss Tony George were expected to meet this week and that race organizers wanted to have a long-term deal in place by the end of Sunday's U.S. Grand Prix.

"We've enjoyed the relationship and we'd like to see that relationship continue," Chitwood said.

Ecclestone, known as a fierce negotiator, may be using this as a tactic to get a better deal.

Traditionally, Indianapolis, the only American race on the F1 schedule, draws one of the biggest crowds on the circuit. Attendance figures are not released at Indy, but estimates have typically been around 125,000 each of the past six years. The inaugural race in 2000 drew more than 200,000.

Ecclestone has previously indicated he would consider racing in another American city, such as New York or Las Vegas, and in his letter cited India's interest in hosting a future race as another possibility.

"We don't have a lot of sponsors from the U.S., no American teams and only one driver," he wrote. "I get along with Tony George and I hope we can strike a deal, but we have offers from other places in the U.S., too."

Sunday's race, the eighth U.S. Grand Prix staged in Indy, has had some memorably poor moments.

In 2002, Rubens Barrichello edged Ferrari teammate Michael Schumacher in what many considered a payback for Barrichello parking his car and letting Schumacher win a race earlier in the season.

Three years late, 14 of 20 drivers entered pulled off the track just before the start of the race to protest tire safety issues. Schumacher won that race, but George refused to wave the checkered flag or appear in the winner's circle. Schumacher, now retired, is the only driver to win five times at Indianapolis' historic track.

And just before last year's race, Ecclestone rankled American fans by saying he didn't think F1 had to race in the United States.

Not everyone agrees. BMW Sauber driver Nick Heidfeld said it was important for his team to be in America, which is the biggest market for BMW cars.

"I think it's important for F1 because it's labeled as the world championship," said Heidfeld, who finished second in the Canadian Grand Prix last week in Montreal. "America is a big country and has a lot of history with auto racing, so I think it is important to race here."

Besides BMW, F1 team principals and sponsors Mercedes, Ferrari, Honda, Toyota and Renault also call the U.S. their biggest market.