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As for the event in Austin, Ecclestone said he’s excited about the race and the $400 million track built to host it. Formula One has a 10-year contract with the Circuit of the Americas to see if it can succeed. Ecclestone noted the commercial importance of creating a permanent presence in the U.S.

“It’s a good market for everybody. It’s Ferraris’, I think, biggest market now,” Ecclestone said.

Why the sport has struggled in the U.S. is a mystery, Ecclestone said.

“We’ve had good crowds in the past,” he said, noting races in Long Beach, Calif., in the 1970s and `80s, and Watkins Glen, N.Y. from 1961-1980. The U.S. Grand Prix also drew large crowds at Indianapolis Motor Speedway from 2000-2007.

The rise of an American driver who could win races and maybe even challenge for a world championship would help grow the sport, Ecclestone said. But even that can’t guarantee success.

Ecclestone said in the 1970s, an American television network executive told him that if the U.S. produced a world champion, they would pay Formula One $5 million for broadcast rights.

“In those days, that was quite a decent price. When Mario (Andretti) won the championship (1978) I rang him and said “Do you want the bank particulars?’ Nothing particularly happened,” Ecclestone said. “What we need is some support from American companies to support an American driver and make sure it’s a good team.”

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NO REGRETS: Despite what his current team boss says, Lewis Hamilton is very happy about his decision to leave McLaren for Formula One rival Mercedes after this season.

McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh recently said he believes Hamilton rushed into his decision after retiring from the Sept. 23 Singapore Grand Prix with gearbox problem, and will regret the decision to end his 14-year relationship with the team. Mercedes has won one race in three seasons.

Hamilton said he was surprised by Whitmarsh’s comments but has no regrets about leaving.

“It’s clearly absolutely not the case,” said Hamilton, who the 2008 world championship and started at Abu Dhabi in pole position.

“I’ve got a great team and I’ve been with them such a long time. So I’m sure everyone has emotions within the team, but I’m still here giving 100 percent to them for the last two races,” Hamilton said.

“Of course it’s quite emotional for me, but I’m very, very happy with the decision I’ve made.”

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