The future of the Chinese Grand Prix beyond 2010, when the current five year contract expires, is again making F1 latest news, following last weekends race when once again the stadium was well below it’s capacity of 200,000 with estimates of little more than a third of that braving the rain to watch Formula One in Shanghai.
The weather itself has little effect on the support for F1 in China and it is easy to point a finger at the global financial crisis as being the main culprit in keeping fans away from the track. But despite the excellent track and facilities built at a cost of $350million on swampland outside the city specifically to host Formula One, the paying public have avoided the event like the plague.
Stories of shipping busloads of spectators in for free to fill the main stands, have been verified by the embarrassed organisers in the past and you have to suspect that nothing has changed at this years race. Chinese media have estimated that total losses over the seven year contract that expires next year, will amount to around $750million.
But it is not just the spectators that have gone missing, Chinese businesses have been reluctant to commit to Formula One and this years race actually took place without a title sponsor after the state run oil company Sinopec refused to renew it’s deal with the organisers.
Shanghai’s deputy sports minister has said that a decision on whether to take a further five year renewal option on the contract will be made before the end of 2009. In the meantime Bernie Ecclestone is typically bullish over the situation, saying that he was sure that the race will still be on the calendar for 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.”