China bought into F1 to boost its global image, but may be getting cold feet
China is considering ditching its loss-making Formula One Grand Prix, according to a senior race official.
Qiu Weichang, deputy director of the Shanghai Administration of Sports, told AFP a decision on the future of the event would be announced in 2009.
"We're doing the assessment. By next year, we should be able to give you the answer," Qiu is reported to have said.
Qiu, who appeared cool on the idea of a night race, added that organisers "would like at least to break even".
Shanghai, China's biggest city, spent $240m (£161m) building a track suitable for F1 and has hosted a Grand Prix since 2004.
It has a contract with F1 until 2010 and is said by F1 insiders to pay about $50m (£34m) annually for the race.
But the event has not proved popular with local people and attendances have been poor - even with some spectators being transported in specifically to give the appearance of a fuller venue.
The event has been lucrative for F1 commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone, who is believed to charge China some of the highest fees to host a race.
China is one of a string of locations which have joined the F1 circuit at a heavy cost in recent years in an attempt to boost their global image, joining the likes of Malaysia, Bahrain and Singapore on the calendar.
With the exception of Singapore, which held its inaugural Grand Prix as a night race in September, all have failed to capture widespread interest among locals.
Qiu said: "We want to create a win-win situation, for our side and for Bernie [Ecclestone] and the F1 organisers as well.
"If this is something we can do, and our co-operation is very happy and smooth, we will consider it.
"Of course we would like at least to break even. But there are two factors - one is the assessment; the other part is the win-win situation that we can create."
Asia is a growth area for F1. Abu Dhabi is to host its first race in 2009, with South Korea and India scheduled to follow suit in 2010 and 2011.
The future of the Chinese Grand Prix may be out of Ecclestone's hands
Ecclestone is keen for locations in the eastern hemisphere to hold their races as late in the day as possible in order to make the start time more attractive for F1's core audience in western Europe.
But asked about the idea of night racing, Qiu said: "In Singapore... holding the event at night is a good way to attract tourists to a small country.
"Singapore is hosting this event in their own unique way but we have our own situation."
Qiu said that the Grand Prix had succeeded in creating "this huge wave of car fever, so in that sense it is good news".
He said the circuit would continue to exist if the Grand Prix dropped because it was already in use for most of the year by car clubs, who hosted private driving sessions.
China has already ditched its MotoGP race, which was also held at Shanghai.
And in January, the head of the track, Yu Zhifei, who helped bring F1 to China, was jailed on corruption charges.