The Chinese Grand Prix will ride out current doubts over its future on the Formula One calendar, and may even benefit from a move to the early part of the calendar, according to event organisers.
Despite Asia appearing to be Formula One's future - with events in Bahrain, Singapore, Abu Dhabi, Korea and India either having been added or set to be so since China arrived on the F1 schedule in 2004 - the Shanghai race was last week threatened with the axe after it was revealed that organisers were not prepared to rack up huge debts simply to meet Bernie Ecclestone's asking price for the event.
A deadline of 2010 - when the race's current contract expires - was set for the issue to be resolved as the promoters seek to bring China in line with other events on the calendar. Ecclestone is believed to charge an annual rate of $50m (£34m) for the privilege of Shanghai hosting the F1 circus – reputedly one of the highest fees for any country on the calendar – and it appeared that the financial burden, allied to low local interest and poor ticket sales, may be starting to take its toll.
No Chinese driver has raced in F1 in the sport's 58-year world championship history, although GP2 regular Ho-Pin Tung has tested with Williams and Congfu 'Franky' Cheng attracted support from McLaren in his junior days, and, the cost of attending aside, motorsport faces falling behind other sports where China has become successful when it comes to public interest.
It is estimated that just 80,000 spectators turned out at the 200,000 capacity Shanghai International Circuit on race day last month, with 'a proportion' of those having received their tickets as a result of a 'trade off with business partners'.
Despite that, however, organisers have now insisted that the race will
continue beyond the end of its current deal, with the surprise move to the start of the season providing a possible fillip as it no longer clashes with other major sporting events staged in Shanghai. With the city, which is attempting to rival capital Beijing in terms of sporting prowess, having recently lost both its MotoGP round and the Asian Open golf tournament, and seen the ATP men's tennis finale swapped for a regular Masters Series tournament, the grand prix could yet become Shanghai's biggest draw..
It also appears that the supposed threat to the race's future could have come about due to a misunderstanding in comments made by Qiu Weichang, the deputy director of the Shanghai sports ministry.
"I've spoken to Mr Qiu and he never
said the grand prix was going to leave China," Leon Sun of organisers Juss Events told Reuters
, "I think it's probably some misunderstanding in translation. I would say it's likely it will stay after 2010.
"Formula One has only been here for five years. To build a spectator base is not easy, it's a long-term operation, [but] we think Formula One is a very good product, a very good event for Shanghai city so, at least from our company's point of view, we want to continue promoting and building the event. Research shows there are more and more race fans in China, so I don't think we will say no to Formula One."