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Poor attendance puts future of Korean GP under serious scrutiny

Updated: 2013-10-09 07:46
By Reuters in Yeongam, South Korea (China Daily)

South Korea's money-losing and poorly attended Formula One Grand Prix could be axed in the wake of last Sunday's race, but local organizers are still hopeful of renegotiating their contract and keeping it on the calendar.

Promoter Park Won-hwa said on Saturday he was optimistic despite recognizing the future of the event at the Yeongam circuit hung in the balance with just a 50/50 chance of survival.

"I do not think it's going to be the last one. We are eager to continue this event because we invested a lot of money to build this circuit," said Park.

"Public opinion in Korea was very much against continuously holding this event because of a huge deficit. But now we are more or less stabilized financially and we would like to continue," said Park, who is a professor of air and space law.

 Poor attendance puts future of Korean GP under serious scrutiny

Red Bull Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany celebrates winning the Korean F1 Grand Prix at the Korea International Circuit on Sunday. Kim Hong-ji / Reuters

Held near the shipyards of Mokpo about 400km south of Seoul and now in its fourth edition, the race is listed only provisionally on the 2014 schedule along with Mexico and a new race in New Jersey.

If all are confirmed, Formula One would have a record 22 races next year but few in the traveling circus believe that will be the case. Most teams are reluctant to go beyond 20 rounds.

Korea and New Jersey, whose debut was already postponed last year for financial reasons, are seen as the most likely to be dropped.

"We don't know yet whether we can continue or not because we have to deal with Formula One management. I do not know how it will end up," said Park.

"We want to renegotiate. Mr Ecclestone has his position, we have our position. Obviously the core issue is the money problem and we don't know if we can find a satisfactory solution or not.

"But I am very much hopeful because Mr Ecclestone is such a nice person and he knows our situation."

Formula One supremo Ecclestone, who turns 83 this month, is renowned for driving a hard bargain and securing eye-watering deals that have poured billions into the coffers of the commercial rights holder.

The Briton, who has taken the sport to exotic destinations where state subsidies are readily available, is not famed for making generous concessions to those unable to meet his terms.

The Korean circuit's current contract, agreed before Park arrived, runs to 2016 with an option to extend for five years.

The race has ended substantially in the red every year, according to local media reports, with an operating loss of about $37 million in 2012.

"We certainly wish to improve the contract so that we can continue the event with the support of provincial parliament and the central parliament and public opinion," said Park.

The race has become a talking point for low attendances, with many more empty seats than spectators both days. although Park put the overall figure at 160,000.

Drivers, used to being mobbed by fans and autograph hunters at circuits like Monza and Monaco, experienced a quieter weekend for a change.

"You just have to try to draw inspiration from the empty seats," said Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton witha wry grin.

His compatriot and former teammate, Jenson Button, spoke enthusiastically of the food, the scenery and the lack of anything to distract from driving.

But he also missed the buzz of a cheering crowd.

"It's always sad when there are no fans at a race," the 2009 world champion said. "It hasn't really got the South Koreans excited and they don't travel to see the race.

"If you have a full house it makes the atmosphere and makes it a special race.

"This place doesn't have that because no one comes to watch it."

Asked whether he would miss the race if it disappeared from the calendar, Button's hesitation spoke volumes.

"I don't know what to say to that one," he finally said.


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