It is likely that Thailand will host a Formula One race in 2015, Thai officials said yesterday.
More than 100,000 people watched Thailand’s first-ever exhibition of Formula One driving on Ratchadamnoen Avenue in 2010.
"An F1 race is likely to take place here in early 2015 instead of in 2014 in our initial plan," said Kanokphand Chulakasem, governor of the Sports Authority of Thailand.
His remark came after F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone was quoted as saying by the Wall Street Journal that the 2015 Grand Prix calendar would feature a night race on the streets of Bangkok.
It was the first time that Ecclestone talked about a Grand Prix in Thailand.
"We have discussed this but I am not in a position to talk about it in detail," said Kanokphand.
Red Bull's Michael de Santiesteban, who met Ecclestone last month, said that the negotiation was going quite well but a formal deal had not yet been reached.
"I can say that it is almost 100 percent certain that Thailand will host an F1 race," said De Santiesteban, a representative of Chalerm Yoovidhya, owner of Red Bull energy drink.
"It is likely to be held in Bangkok. With Thailand on the calendar, a current race is likely to be removed."
Thai officials earlier said Ratchadamnoen Avenue was likely to be the venue. Two years ago, Red Bull Racing's Australian driver Mark Webber's demonstration run at Ratchadamnoen Avenue attracted a crowd of over 100,000.
The annual fee for hosting an F1 race is US$27 million (approximately 810 million baht) and it is understood that the Thai government would foot around 60 percent of the bill, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The rest is set to come from local companies such as Red Bull and Singha Corporation, the two major sponsors of last weekend's Race of Champions in Bangkok which featured triple F1 champion Sebastian Vettel and seven-time winner Michael Schumacher, both from Germany.
Ecclestone said that the planned F1 race was backed by Chalerm, the fourth-richest man in Thailand through his 51 percent stake in Red Bull.
The addition of a Thai Grand Prix would increase pressure on the sport's crowded calendar. There are already 20 races slated for 2013 with Russia and New Jersey set to join in 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The number of races is restricted to 20 by the Concorde Agreement, the contract that commits F1's 11 teams to race. They object to adding more races due to increased transport costs and the added time staff would have to spend on the road.
Under the agreement, only a consensus from the teams can cause the schedule to expand beyond 20 races or if over 60% of them are outside the sport's traditional markets of Europe, the US or Canada, the Wall Street Journal said.
The calendar is currently evenly split with 10 races held in these three regions and 10 outside. So unless the teams agree to increase the limit on the number of races, the introduction of Thailand is likely to come at the expense of an existing race, it said.
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- Writer: Kittipong Thongsombat