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Organizers say future of Korean GP in the balance

October 4, 2013

YEONGAM, South Korea (AP) — Korean Grand Prix organizers say there needs to be a significant reduction in the race’s hosting fee if it is to continue beyond this year, with the local promoter saying the chances of Formula One returning in 2014 are “50-50.”

The Korean GP has been included on a provisional basis in the draft calendar of 22 races in 2014, albeit in April rather than its regular date in October.

However, acting promoter Park Won-hwa told The Associated Press it will be difficult for the event to continue unless F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone makes major concessions on the hosting fee and other terms.

“We want to improve the contract because we are still in a big deficit and we want to make it less, otherwise it’s difficult for us to continue,” Park said. “If the terms and conditions are really, in every respect, improved to suit our requirements, then we could do that.

“It’s difficult I would say, but we are very keen to continue the event because public opinion has changed in our favor.”

The race made a reported deficit of $37 million last year, and struggled to attract sponsors and spectators, with the track located about a four-hour drive south of Seoul, near the regional port city of Mokpo.

Park said deficits were narrowing after the first three years, but still remain too high and a major cut in the hosting fee was required. Hosting fees varied from race to race on the F1 circuit, and Park said: “I believe ours is higher than others but on the other hand, we never know because it’s confidential.” Of the 19 races in the 2013 championship, nine are in the Asian region.

Park acknowledged it will be a challenging to get Ecclestone to agree to the local promoter’s terms.

“I’ve been dealing with him for three years, and he is a hard man,” Park said. “Sometimes he makes good decisions, and sometimes he makes decisions for his own benefit.”

The two main improvements that have been suggested for Korea are a switch to a night race, or to relocate it to a proposed new track near the Incheon international airport which serves Seoul.

Park was open to the idea of a night race but said it has never been suggested by Ecclestone, and said it was unlikely the new track would be built.

“It’s difficult, when they build it we will know, but you need a huge amount of investment,” Park said.

“Location-wise it’s much better but who is going to invest that money? Incheon city is in a huge deficit - impossible. A private investor? For what, to make a deficit? It’s very difficult.”

Park acknowledged the root cause of F1′s failure to excite the Korean market was the absence of any Korean involvement in teams or as drivers, and said more planning should have been made years ago to solve that problem.

“Contrary to our expectations, we could not make a boom in Formula One,” Park said. “They knew it was popular in Europe, so they thought why not here?

“We need a Korean driver, and Korean teams. That is the critical reason we could not see the leap in popularity for F1.”