Shanghai chiefs keen to host Chinese GP in the long-term
When Lewis Hamilton blasted past the chequered flag yesterday at the Shanghai International Circuit (SIC) and inched further towards his maiden Formula One title, organisers of the Chinese Grand Prix were also closing in on a prospective extension of the city's commitment to hosting the event.
Sources close to the management of the racetrack said F1 would almost certainly stay on in the mainland's commercial hub after 2010, when the current GP hosting-rights deal expires.
'They have hired a prominent international research firm to carry out an assessment of the event's overall impact on the city over the past five years,' said a source familiar with the matter. 'Generally, they are inclined to remain as part of the calendar in 2011. But there would be a bargaining process before working out the details of the deal.'
Shanghai put itself on the Formula One map in 2004 thanks to a seven-year deal with Bernie Ecclestone, the man who controls the high-octane global motorsport circus. At one stage, the city came under fire for public spending excesses incurred by the introduction of the race.
Detractors pointed their fingers at the staggering five billion yuan (HK$5.68 billion) bill for the construction of the racetrack and related infrastructure in the city's far-flung Jiangding suburb, as well as an annual rights fee - reportedly US$18 million - which ended up in Ecclestone's pockets.
The criticism peaked in 2006 after former Shanghai party secretary Chen Liangyu, who was believed to be the main force behind the Formula One project, was sacked over a corruption charge, a move which later triggered a management reshuffle at the racetrack.
Despite the fears, the genuine fan base in the series has grown rapidly among the rich elite in China and the event itself has injected some much-needed cash into Shanghai's economy.
'It may look like less pizzazz compared to the full-house attendance for the inaugural Chinese GP,' said Zhang Pingyi, a veteran motorsport editor with the Chinese website sohu.com.
'But the size of the paying crowd has actually grown.'
Up to 90,000 spectators turned up yesterday at the 150,000-capacity circuit, according to a count by the SIC.
Property prices in the vicinity of the racetrack have almost doubled since 2004 and, thanks to the presence of Formula One, the once little-noticed satellite town of Jiangding now accommodates some of the biggest auto factories in the region.
The growing presence of Asian countries in the F1 calendar also gives Shanghai additional reason to stay on the calendar as it tries to boost its status as the region's leading metropolis. With four races now located on the continent, including an unprecedented night race in Singapore last month, Shanghai chiefs believe they will benefit with more neighbours jumping on the bandwagon.
'We just talked to organisers of the [prospective] South Korean GP this morning about serious co-operation,' said Jiang Lan, the general manager of Jiushi Events, the state-backed rights holder of the Chinese GP.
'More F1 races in Asia, if co-ordinated properly, would help foster more prosperity in the cities across the region.'
South Korea and India are expected to join as new hosts after 2010.