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Ecclestone confident about China but...

April 21, 2009 13:17 IST

Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone is confident the Chinese Grand Prix will remain after 2010 but continued losses for the city of Shanghai make the future of the event less than certain.

Chinese media have estimated the anticipated losses over the seven years of the current contract, which runs out next year, at some 5.0 billon yuan ($731.7 million).

Shanghai's deputy sports minister said last year that a decision would be announced over the five-year renewal option before the end of 2009, and Chinese officials kept a discreet silence at the race over the weekend.

After a news conference involving those city officials at the Shanghai International Circuit was cancelled so that Ecclestone could meet with a vice-mayor, the octogenarian Briton emerged in ebullient mood.

"I am sure it will be," he told reporters when asked whether the race would still be around in 2011.

"As long as there is China, we will be here. Asia is growing while lots of parts of the world are dying. That is the difference."

Ecclestone has been the driving force behind Formula One's expansion into Asia, which now hosts grands prix in Malaysia, China, Bahrain, Singapore, Japan and Abu Dhabi.

KEY MARKET

China, with its 1.3 billion population, is a key market for many of Formula One's sponsors, not to mention the car manufacturers behind many of the teams.

"Shanghai is a booming city of millions, and the sheer scale of the race track and its facilities are unsurpassed," said BMW-Sauber team boss Mario Theissen before this year's race.

"From the point of view of BMW as a car manufacturer and all our partners, the Chinese GP is of significant commercial interest. This region has enormous growth potential."

Local companies have been slow to embrace the race, though, and it went ahead without a title sponsor this year after state oil company Sinopec declined to renew its deal.

"It is disappointing that it is not supported by local companies," added Ecclestone.

"I think they are missing an awful lot. It seems to me in China nobody cares about branding and a grand prix is a good chance to promote a brand."

Certainly the possibility of the $350 million circuit built on swampland 40 km outside Shanghai becoming a white elephant would be a political embarrassment to the city government.

But with the man behind its construction, Yu Zhifei, now serving a prison sentence for corruption and his patron having been dismissed from his senior role in the city's Communist Party, there are easy scapegoats to blame.

The circuit has, moreover, never come anywhere near filling its 200,000 seats with around 80,000 turning up for the 2008 race and not many more braving the rain on Sunday.

With the storm clouds of the global economic downturn gathering over even China's boomtowns, Shanghai cutting its losses could easily be presented as the prudent decision.

Source:
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