The future of the Chinese Grand Prix is far from secure, race organisers have revealed – with the loss-making race potentially set to disappear from the Formula 1 calendar in just two years' time.
The state-of-the-art Shanghai International Circuit – built at a cost of a staggering $240 million (£161 million) – first welcomed the top flight in 2004 in an effort to boost the country's global image, and has a contract to host the Chinese Grand Prix until 2010.
Commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone is believed to charge race promoters an annual rate of $50m (£34m) for the privilege – one of the highest fees for any country – and it appears the financial burden allied to low local interest and poor ticket sales may now be beginning to take its toll.
Indeed, it has been suggested by the BBC
that some 'spectators' have been transported in especially to make the grandstands appear fuller than they in reality have been. No Chinese driver has ever competed in F1 in the sport's 58-year history.
“We're doing the assessment,” Qiu Weichang, deputy director of the Shanghai Administration of Sports, told international news agency AFP
. “By next year we should be able to give you an answer.
“We want to create a win-win situation, for our side and for Bernie and the F1 organisers as well. If this is something we can do, and our co-operation is very happy and smooth, we will consider it.
“Of course we would like at least to break even, but there are two factors. One is the assessment; the other part is the win-win situation that we can create.”
Grands prix running at a loss are not unusual – with the French Grand Prix falling off the calendar over financial issues and the Australian Grand Prix registering a record $27 million deficit in 2008 alone – but Asia has been seen of late as F1's most prominent market for growth and expansion, with the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix this year, Abu Dhabi due to join the fray in 2009, South Korea in 2010 and India set to follow suit in 2011.
However, Shanghai's relationship with Ecclestone took a downturn when Yu Zhifei, the head of the track and a man who helped to attract the sport to China, was jailed in January after being caught up in a massive corruption scandal that also brought down the city's top official.