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Toyota's Fuji circuit pulls plug on F1

TOYOTA'S Fuji International Speedway gave up the hosting rights for the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix in 2010 and beyond yesterday to cut costs amid the global economic downturn.

The circuit, majority held by the world's biggest automaker, had been scheduled to alternate each year with the Honda-owned Suzuka.

A Honda spokesman said it was up to Formula One organizers to decide on the fate of next year's race, adding that Suzuka had made no decision beyond the planned hosting in 2009 and 2011.

Honda pulled out of Formula One as a team and engine provider in December.

Fees for hosting rights cost the Toyota circuit about 2 billion to 3 billion yen (US$20-US$30 million), a source said on condition of anonymity. That excludes other operational outlays such as staffing the event.

"It's been only three years since we announced in March 2006 that we would be hosting the F1 Japanese Grand Prix," Fuji Speedway President Hiroaki Kato said in a statement.

"That we're making this difficult decision so soon is truly heart-wrenching," he added.

It has not been decided whether Fuji's withdrawal means the F1 race is held at another venue in Japan next year, Fuji Speedway spokesman Keiichi Sato said.

Fuji Speedway's exit came as Toyota hoped to revive itself under the leadership of its new president, Akio Toyoda, who is the grandson of founder Kiichiro Toyoda. The 53-year-old Toyoda took the helm at the Japanese auto giant in June.

Toyota has put several projects on hold to save cash after it posted its first operating loss since its founding last year. It has forecast that loss to balloon to a record 850 billion yen in the business year to March 2010.

The company's own Formula One team, based in Germany, has yet to win a grand prix despite pouring money into the sport since its debut in 2002.

Two spectators

Fuji staged Japan's first Formula One race in 1976 but a crash involving Gilles Villeneuve that killed two spectators the following year resulted in its removal from the F1 calendar.

Suzuka then hosted the Japanese GP from 1987 to 2006 before a revamped Fuji Speedway returned in 2007 and 2008 following an absence of 30 years. Toyota bought the Fuji circuit in 2000, spending 20 billion yen to renew the track with state-of-the-art facilities.

Honda, Japan's second largest carmaker, pulled its under-performing team out of Formula One to avoid falling into the red.

The British-based team re-emerged after a management buyout under the leadership of Ross Brawn as Brawn GP, now the championship leader powered by Mercedes engines.

Honda's departure was followed in rallying by Subaru, owned by Fuji Heavy Industries, and Suzuki.


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