Ecclestone guarantees Zhuhai F1 race - in 1999 at least
Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone is certain Zhuhai will become part of the Formula One circuit by 1999 - even if it fails to acquire super status this year.
'Whatever happens with the other two countries [Belgium and France], they [Formula One] will race in Zhuhai next year, I am sure of it,' said FIA (Federation Internationale d'Autombile) vice-president Ecclestone.
'FIA has been trying to move some of the races to Asia and this is something FIA and myself want to see happen. It will happen in Zhuhai if everything is ready. This is guaranteed.' Ecclestone, who is also chairman of the Formula One Constructors' Association, gave the clearest indication yet that China was going to host the high-profile event despite having to compete with South Africa's Kyalami circuit, the second standby venue named by the FIA, in case Belgium's Spa loses out.
FIA is expected to decide whether or not Zhuhai, which has a purpose-built, 4.32-kilometre circuit, will host a round of the Formula One circuit after February 15, when the sport's governing body finalises the fate of the Belgium Grand Prix, which is in danger of losing its race because of tough legislation on tobacco advertising.
Zhuhai's prospects were increased last month when the French Grand Prix was knocked off the list because of a television rights feud and the Portuguese Grand Prix was dropped from the calendar because there was no guarantee repair work on the Estoril track would be completed on time. 'We had some of our people from the FIA inspect the track in Zhuhai and the response has been quite positive. Already there has been a good feeling about it,' said Ecclestone.
'We are working on it now and we have lots of details to iron out.
'It is not a five-minute job and we need to be patient about it. If I can put together all the commercial prospects, the FIA will sanction the event.' It is a known fact that FIA is turning its attention to Asia, especially as 70 per cent of the sport's television audience is based in Asia.
FIA is also concerned about the European tobacco advertising laws and is switching its interests to 'this part of the world', according to Ecclestone.
Zhuhai International Circuit clerk of the course, Kendy Chan, said China was ready to join the Formula One family, saying the event - which has attracted enormous interest from tobacco giants British American Tobacco and Philip Morris - had 100 per cent backing from the Chinese Government.
'We believe the Zhuhai circuit is 100 per cent ready and that the FIA has approved the safety aspects of it. Zhuhai is behind the whole project and it will be the biggest single event ever if China successfully wins the bid,' said Chan.
Japan hosts the only Formula One Grand Prix in Asia in Suzuka but all that is going to change within the next few weeks as Zhuhai is expected to enter the fray - 15 months after it opened its circuit to the world.