China extends F1 deal for three more years

Updated 2017-09-30 09:32:52 Global Times

Shanghai leg to start a week later

China will continue to host a Formula One Grand Prix in Shanghai for at least three more years, its governing body said Friday.

The Chinese Grand Prix, which debuted in September 2004, will take place a week later on April 15 next year, swapping places with the Bahrain race which is moving to April 8, F1 said in a statement.

Under ambitious new US-based owners Liberty Media, F1 released its 2018 race schedule in June with the Shanghai leg only listed as provisional, prompting speculation it could be axed.

"This great country has already demonstrated an overwhelming show of interest in our sport and we firmly believe there is still a great deal of unexplored potential here," F1 Chairman and CEO Chase Carey said in a statement.

The Chinese Grand Prix had become "one of the most prestigious and recognized events" on the F1 calendar, said Jiang Lan, chairman of Shanghai Juss Sports Development which organizes the race.

Liberty is in the process of rebuilding F1 after taking over from its flamboyant long-time ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone.

F1 was less popular in China in recent years than during the Michael Schumacher era due to multiple reasons, including broadcasting rights and downgrading of engine noise at motorsports' flagship race.

Sean Bratches, managing director of F1 commercial operations, believed there's room to change for F1 if it wants to improve its popularity in Asia.

"We're trying to create a culture of transparency of communication, unity among the components of F1," Bratches told the Global Times in a recent interview.

F1's panoply of new technical words like DRS (drag reduction system) and Halo system may also alienate some fans.

"We have things like DRS… No one knows what DRS is. They should be named 'speed wings,'" said Bratches. "We are also having a conversation about Halo if that is the right name."

The Halo system is a central pillar in front of the driver that supports a protective loop above his head and provides potentially life-saving cockpit protection.

Bratches also believes improving the engine sound is important to F1's revival in China. F1's Managing Director Ross Brawn, a renowned former motorsport engineer and F1 team principal, is leading the push to improve the sound.

"From a marketing standpoint to me, I am putting wind behind his sail," Bratches said. "I am encouraging him to successfully accomplish that objective of heightening the sound and bringing it back to the level it used to be."

Many Chinese motorsports fans are also expecting a Chinese driver to compete in F1. Some have pinned their hopes on Zhou Guanyu, an 18-year-old racing in the FIA European F3 event.

Zhou, who is at the Ferrari driver academy, has finished on the podium three times in the F3 race this season. He was singled out by Bratches.

"We hope that there will be Chinese drivers in the top-20 drivers of the world," said Bratches.

"The drivers have to be the best in the world… There are efforts that could foster the environment where that would occur, including those with Zhou."

This year's Shanghai race, won by world championship leader Lewis Hamilton for a record-extending fifth time, was set to be the last under the previous contract.

Friday's announcement comes as Malaysia - which pioneered F1's push into Asia - is set to host its last Grand Prix in Sepang, while Singapore agreed a four-year extension earlier this month, keeping it on the calendar until 2021.

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