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F1 accelerates in Asia

FORMULA 1's plans to expand into Asia seem to be accelerating with Bernie Ecclestone apparently trying to convince the Malaysian government that it should hold a race in 1998 rather than 1999.

Ecclestone says that the race in 1998 in Korea will definitely happen and that Malaysia is likely to be the second event in the Pacific Rim. This excludes China, which Bernie says he is not sure if it is "a good market".

The comments should probably not be taken at face value as the two Asian countries which are best prepared for Grand Prix racing - both have circuits already build and ready to hold events - are China and Indonesia. To date, however, Ecclestone has been unable to agree financial terms with either the Chinese or the Indonesians and his comments about giving races to rival countries may be designed purely as a way of pointing out to the others that they do not have a divine right to a race unless they are willing to pay for one.

Commercial logic dictates that a race at Zhuhai in China would have the biggest impact in Asia - in terms of numbers of people being exposed to F1 and its sponsors.

In Melbourne there was plenty of evidence of the booming interest in F1 in Asia with large numbers of Malaysians to be seen around the paddock and Indonesian car magnate - and the son of the country's President - Tommy Suharto visiting as a guest of Tom Walkinshaw's Arrows team.

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