MARCH 18, 1996
What about China?
LAST week's low-key announcement that the Hong Kong-Beijing Rally is to be reduced in size may be rather more significant than immediately meets the eye.
However, such changes will mean that it is a great deal cheaper to run the event, and the money saved could be used to stage other events - notably a Chinese Grand Prix.
Plans for such a race are not new. In March 1992, a contract was signed between the Zhuhai development office and Malaysian company Lamdeal for the construction - on a 1000-acre plot of Chinese government land - of a vast sporting center which would include two hotels, a golf course and an international standard racing circuit
The 2.75-mile track was designed to have a spectator capacity of 150,000 and Australian construction company Kinhill Engineering was contracted to do the work. This began early in 1993 and the site was visited at the end of that year by FIA President Max Mosley.
Mosley's visit coincided with China's first official motor race - on a makeshift street circuit in Zhuhai City. The local authorities took the opportunity to announce their desire to hold a Chinese GP in 1995. This did not happen but the track is now finished and the Chinese are looking to host a race in 1997. This will coincide with the date on which the British government is to hand back Hong Kong to the Chinese.
Zhuhai is just 35 miles from Hong Kong and highway links with the city are now being completed. A 1997 race will thus give China the opportunity to promote itself as a country which is opening up to the western world.
The F1 sponsors and manufacturers are desperate to make inroads into the Chinese markets, notably Mild Seven, but it remains to be seen whether or not the Chinese can come to an agreement with F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone over money.
In the past Ecclestone has had difficulty convincing countries new to F1 that it is worth the money he is asking. This seems to have been the major problem which has blocked an Indonesian Grand Prix, despite the fact that a racing circuit was built at Sentul in the early 1980s.
A delegation of Chinese officials attended last year's French Grand Prix and spoke optimistically about the future, but if there is to be a race in 1997 we should be hearing about it shortly.