Sao Paulo F1 race under threat as judge suspends contract

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Formula 1's future in Brazil is once again uncertain after a judge suspended a new contract keeping the race at Interlagos.

Last year saw a tug of war between Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro over the right to host F1, with the latter understood to have signed an agreement to move the race to a new circuit proposed in the suburb of Deodoro.

Even Brazil's controversial president Jair Bolsonaro supported the switch, but the plan eventually had to be scrapped after strong local opposition to the track being constructed on environmental grounds.

As a result, F1 signed a new five-year deal at Interlagos, with the race rebranded as the Sao Paulo Grand Prix under new promoter Brasil Motorsport, a company owned by the Abu Dhabi-based Mubadala group.

On Tuesday, however, a city judge suspended that new contract after a public petition cited concerns over transparency and the cost to the state.

According to court filings, the deal will require R$100m ($18.5m) of public funds to cover the race over the five years, but this seemingly hadn't been cleared with the local government as only money to renovate Interlagos had previously been approved.

It is also claimed there was a clear breach of the law which requires contracts of this type to be put out to tender before a deal is reached.

“The hiring of a private company without the opening of a bidding process at the high value mentioned, in the midst of a global health crisis, constitutes a true aberration and will bring enormous losses to the treasury,” it was claimed.

The judge has now ordered the new promoters to submit all relevant documents within five days to prove the contract meets with the necessary transparency standards.

“These facts reveal without a doubt that, at least in this summary cognitive phase, the principles of advertising and transparency are being violated explicitly,” he said.

“There is a need to suspend the execution of the contract in question, in order to assess whether there were effectively resources to cover expenses.”

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This is another potential blow ahead of an F1 season that is already being disrupted by the lingering Covid-19 pandemic after it was confirmed the Australian GP had been postponed to November on Tuesday.

Last year's Brazil GP also had to be cancelled due to the virus, with the country currently having the third-highest number of total cases at almost 8.2m.