Formula One targets Asia

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 May, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 May, 1997, 12:00am

A widespread European ban on tobacco advertising and sponsorship in sports could lead to Asia becoming the focus of Formula One racing in the next few years, it was revealed yesterday.

Formula One chiefs are looking at new races in Asia in an attempt to spread the sport to other countries after the latest move on tobacco sponsorship restrictions had most observers speculating that the number of races in Europe would be cut from 12 to just four.

The recent pledge by Britain's new Labour Government to ban one of the biggest sources of revenue for the teams may affect the World Championship schedule and move the majority of races out of Europe - and into Asia.

'If we have to move races away from Europe then Formula One would continue,' Bernie Ecclestone, vice-president of the world governing body, FIA, and president of the constructors' organisation told Britain's Sunday Times newspaper.

'I have been moving east for years because I think it is the biggest growth area for us and, by coincidence, it happens it is the biggest growth area for tobacco.

'Regardless of what happen with tobacco, we will be in Malaysia and Korea within the next couple of years.' Joe Lim, deputy chairman of the Zhuhai International Racing Circuit, said it was great news for Asia. But he added that it was only a matter of time before Asia suffered the same fate as their European counterparts and a complete tobacco sponsorship ban would be enforced.

He said: 'We're negotiating to have a round of the Formula One circuit. But we're facing the same problem. China are also very strict on tobacco sponsorship. We need special approval for naming right sponsorship. In China, tobacco advertising signage is not allowed in stadiums.

'We need to get special approval from the Chinese Ministry of Sport. Asia is starting to have restrictions as well. We have to work around it.

'The cost of staging a Formula One is very high. We need major sponsorship and tobacco companies usually have the biggest budget. The Chinese Ministry of Sport could allow tobacco sponsorship, but to what extent?' Malaysian and Indonesian hopes of hosting a round of the Formula One circuit look bright as only slight restrictions on tobacco advertisement are enforced in those countries.

A spokesman for the Shah Alam circuit in Malaysia - a venue for the 500cc World Motorcycling Championship - said it was Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed's wish for Formula One racing to be included in Malaysia.

'At the moment, we don't face strict restrictions. In fact, the Malaysia Grand Prix [500cc World Motorcyling Championship] was sponsored by Marlboro. A new Formula One circuit is currently being built and we are confident Malaysia will be included in the Formula One circuit within the next two years,' said the spokesman.

Tobacco companies spend more than US$164 million in Formula One alone. But anti-tobacco regulations are also in effect in a number of other countries, including France and Germany. Tobacco companies have sidestepped that for the moment by not having the brand names but keeping the easily recognisable symbols and colours at the race and on the cars.

France had its Grand Prix taken off the schedule for a few months because Formula One officials were concerned their teams would be faced with arrest because of televised images of names coming from another Grand Prix.

The French Government passed special legislation to avoid the problem and the French Grand Prix was back on the schedule.

This time it may be more serious with Britain involved.

Formula One officials have considered a number of alternatives to avoid problems with the anti-tobacco movement. One of the plans that that been mentioned is a reduction of the amount of racing in Europe, leaving perhaps just four races and moving a majority to Asia, including Malaysia and China.

'It would be sad to lose the traditional circuits, places like Silverstone, but the World Championship is the most important thing,' Ecclestone was quoted as saying.

'We would not want to miss out on Italy, for example, but Croatia could be the alternative for them. The new races would become traditional before long. We go forward all the time.'