By Alan Baldwin
BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Formula One views China as a long-term play and a second grand prix in the nation of 1.3 billion people remains years away, according to the sport’s chairman and chief executive Chase Carey.
“China is a little bit like the U.S. — two enormous markets. It will clearly take time,” the American told Reuters at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
“They are markets that will probably be important to Formula One in a five to 10 year timeframe, not a three-year timeframe,” he added.
China has had a grand prix in Shanghai since 2004 but the contract is up for renewal and next year’s race has an asterisk against it along with Singapore’s round, which is also subject to confirmation.
Carey said he was having ‘good conversations’ with organizers of both races.
While negotiations continue, there has also been talk of China eventually hosting a second race along with expansion in the United States.
McLaren executive director Zak Brown said earlier in July that Formula One needed two rounds in China and suggested one should be on a street circuit to bring racing closer to the people.
Formula One has also announced a deal with marketing agency Lagardere Sports to build strategic partnerships in China from 2018.
Andrew Georgiou, chief executive of Lagardere Sports and Entertainment, told Reuters in March that the growth of the Chinese middle classes could see 400 million people over the next 12 or 13 years having disposable income to spend on entertainment and lifestyle.
Carey said it was important to have a partner that understood the market and helped lay the groundwork for Formula One by building an audience through television, digital media, exhibitions and events.
“I think it’s much more holistic than ‘is it one or two races?’? I think that’s putting the cart before the horse,” said the American.
“It starts with ‘what are the right relationships to have to develop the Chinese market and with them develop the extensions and capability to connect with the marketplace and Chinese fans in the right way?’.
“Could you have a second race? Yes. But those are discussions to be had down the road.”
Carey said the focus over the next six months would be on developing a strategy for growing the sport.
“The technology in our sport and the stars make it a great sport to resonate with the Chinese partner, we just need to build the platforms to connect with them in the right way,” he said.
The chairman, who replaced Bernie Ecclestone at the helm in January following Liberty Media’s takeover of the sport, said any race in China would attract a substantial crowd.
But that was not the big picture.
“The important thing is going to be ‘how do we take whatever events we have, and all the things we create around the event, and enable 1.3 billion Chinese to connect with them?’,” he said.
“I think a second race … in the priorities of developing the China market, it’s like priority five or six.
“At some point it will be important, but right now it’s not the priority of how do you start to connect with 1.3 billion people in China.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Nick Mulvenney)