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Gulf Arabs doing utmost for F1
The oil-exporting Gulf Arab region cannot do more than it is doing already to support Formula One, a leading member of the sport's governing body said on Wednesday.

'The contribution is massive already,' said International Automobile Federation (FIA) vice-president Mohammed Sulayem, a United Arab Emirates rallying champion, in answer to questions about the economic crisis battering car manufacturers who dominate the sport.

The start in Bahrain in 2004
'Who would have thought we would have two Formula One races so close together, 40 minutes apart (in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi),' he told reporters.

'Who would have thought we'd have a situation where a percentage of McLaren would be owned by the Bahraini government?' The island kingdom of Bahrain, which owns 30 per cent of McLaren, became Formula One's first Middle East circuit in 2004 while Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital, will host the season-ending race next year.

Dubai investors were linked this year to failed attempts to save the Super Aguri team that folded in April and there has been speculation that Middle Eastern cash could keep the Honda team alive.

Honda announced this month that they were pulling out of the sport due to the credit crunch, with the British-based team to be closed down if no serious buyer materializes in the next few weeks.

Interest in motorsport is booming in the region, with Gulf trade and tourism hub Dubai boasting a modern circuit while Qatar plans to update its Losail MotoGP track to Formula One standard.

Mubadala Development Co, an investment firm owned by Abu Dhabi, has a five per cent stake in Ferrari and also sponsors the championship-winning team.

Formula One unveiled a raft of cost-cutting measures last week that should see the teams reduce their costs by almost a third next year.

Mr. Sulayem said the sport had to prepare for the worst after Honda's shock exit, with fears that another carmaker could quit before the season starts in Australia on March 29.

'We have to be ready for the worst and that is what we are preparing for,' he told Reuters. 'We don't know what their (manufacturers') sales are in November, December, January, how they are doing, this all has an impact.'

Asked whether the worst would be another team leaving the championship, Mr. Sulayem said: 'It would be even worse than that.' He declined to elaborate.

He said that, in addition to the 30-per cent cost reductions agreed by manufacturer-owned teams next year, there would be another 20-25 per cent cut in budgets in 2010.

'Even after the crisis ends, we should not go back to spending whatever you want,' he said. 'Manufacturers and teams realize that there's an issue...they want a fast cure but there isn't one.  StraitsTimes.com

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