Bernie Ecclestone has vowed to meet up with the organisers of the Chinese Grand Prix to 'see how we can help them', as Montreal confirmed it will not be on the Formula 1 calendar in 2009 and Shanghai hinted it may also be absent as of 2011.
China first welcomed F1 back in 2004, but the race has persistently been stymied by poor ticket sales and attendances, and a lack of any great interest in the local area – leading to tickets even having to be given away for free, it has been claimed, in a desperate bid to make the grandstands look fuller than they actually have been for television purposes.
Indeed, in the 2008 edition there was an entire grandstand left empty, and in 2007 the three-day ticket sales total was just 271,000, when the track can accommodate as many as 200,000 spectators a day.
There has never been a Chinese F1 driver in the 58-year history of the top flight, and last week the deputy director of the Shanghai Administration of Sports, Qiu Weichang, suggested that following the expiration of the Shanghai International Circuit's current contract in 2010, there may be no Chinese Grand Prix either [see separate story – click here
Ecclestone, however – who has been championing lucrative new races in the Middle and Far East for a number of years – is optimistic that matters will not come to that, despite the organisers counting considerable losses following the $400 million reported construction of the circuit and $33 million annual race fee.
“We have a contract until 2010 with an option for five years after that,” the Formula One Management chief executive told the Financial Times
, explaining that the final say is up to Shanghai's government, rather than the organisation of the grand prix. “We will talk to them about it, and meet up and see how we can help them.”
A lack of such 'help' has been blamed for the failure of the Canadian Grand Prix to get itself re-instated on the 2009 schedule, with Ecclestone refusing to budge on his exacting financial demands and race promoters finally giving up the 'unreasonable' struggle [see separate story – click here
Meanwhile, the 78-year-old has praised the Bahrain Grand Prix – another one of F1's 'new breed' of grands prix, and similarly in existence since 2004 – as 'a fantastic success story' with 'an exciting, state-of-the-art set-up', and insisted that he expected the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix next November to be just as well-received.
“I have moved our sport into areas some people thought would never work,” Ecclestone reflected in an interview with Dubai-based newspaper Gulf News
. “Bahrain is one, and a fantastic success story that is, and there is Abu Dhabi to come at the end of next year.
“When Bahrain approached me I was more than happy, and ready, to give them the go-ahead. They spent $150m and it took six months to complete the project.
“What they have is an exciting, state-of-the-art set-up that is great for spectators, teams and VIPs alike. It will be the same, I am certain, with the Abu Dhabi project.”