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U.S. Grand Prix race in question

LONDON -- Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone said Wednesday that the U.S. Grand Prix could be removed from the 2012 calendar because of a contract dispute that led to construction of the Texas racetrack being halted this week.

Ecclestone said the situation must be resolved within the next three weeks, before the 2012 calendar is officially ratified, for the race to go ahead.

Construction on the track in Austin was stopped Tuesday, with developers saying the work will not resume until they have a contract from Formula One to stage the race next year.

However, Ecclestone said no contract has been issued because the organizers have not provided a letter of credit guaranteeing that the F1 ownership will be paid its race fee.

Asked if the race could be dropped unless a solution is found before the schedule is ratified in New Delhi on Dec. 7, Ecclestone said: "It will be, for sure, 100 percent."

The dispute has been caused by F1's decision to scrap a previous contract it had with Tavo Hellmund, a former race driver with long family ties to Ecclestone, who was originally granted the right to stage the U.S. Grand Prix.

Ecclestone said the deal with Hellmund was recently canceled over a contract breach and that F1 officials have instead been negotiating with the track developers, Circuit of the Americas (COTA).

Ecclestone insisted he has "done everything" to ensure the race goes ahead, but that COTA has failed to provide a guarantee of payment.

"It's probably an old-fashioned way of going about things, needing payment, but that's business," Ecclestone said. "It's like buying a house. Before you buy that house, and before you get all the paperwork, you make sure you've got the money."

Ecclestone gave no details on why the contract with Hellmund was canceled, but that he waited six months for the former driver to "remedy the breach."

"He knows full well why we've canceled," Ecclestone said. "He's happy, but these other people haven't got a contract. All we've asked them to do is get us a letter of credit. ... If people don't have the money they find it difficult to get the letter of credit, and so we don't issue a contract."

There had been previous signs of problems ahead of F1's return to the U.S., which hasn't staged a grand prix since 2007 in Indianapolis.

The race's original June 2012 schedule was pushed back to November, and the recent announcement of another grand prix in New Jersey starting in 2013 raised questions over F1's commitment to the Austin race.