THE RING OF SUCCESS: Sebastian Vettel rings the closing bell of the New York Stock Exchange this week, after Sunday’s victory at the US Grand Prix extended his lead to 13 points, leaving Fernando Alonso with an outside chance of snatching the drivers’ title in the final race in Brazil. Picture: REUTERS
THE RING OF SUCCESS: Sebastian Vettel rings the closing bell of the New York Stock Exchange this week, after Sunday’s victory at the US Grand Prix extended his lead to 13 points, leaving Fernando Alonso with an outside chance of snatching the drivers’ title in the final race in Brazil. Picture: REUTERS

TOKYO — The Korean Grand Prix racked up substantial operating losses last month, the third year in a row it has finished in the red, but organisers say the race will bring long-term benefits to the country.

The South Korean race, first run in 2010, returned operating losses of 39.4-billion won ($36.4m), local media quoted race organisers as saying on Wednesday.

One of nine Asian races on the 20-stop 2012 Formula One calendar, including the Asia-Pacific Australian Grand Prix, the South Korean event also lost an estimated $50m in its first year.

"It’s hard to say what kind of impact the loss has on next year," South Korean race organisers said. "Although there are many concerns regarding the operating loss, the loss for a third straight year is only a short-term effect.

"In the long term, the Formula One event will bring more benefits to the country. It will not only pave the way for South Korean car industries in the future but also help foster new industries."

The Yeongam circuit, 400km south of Seoul, has an initial contract of seven years, with a five-year option that could keep the race there until 2021. However, it has been plagued by problems, even before opening in 2010, when construction of the circuit was only just finished in time for its maiden race.

South Korean organisers have expressed dissatisfaction at the terms of their contract with Formula One, particularly over the cost of racesanctioning fees. But Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone has turned a deaf ear to their complaints.

The past two Korean races have been won by Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel, the reigning world champion.

The problems facing South Korea’s race contrast sharply with the success Formula One enjoys in nearby Japan, where sell-out 120,000 crowds are commonplace at Suzuka.

"Compared to the boom years, things have become a little harder but we had 103,000 for race day this year," press manager Yoshihisa Ueno said. "Last year with the (tsunami and nuclear) disaster, numbers were down, but this year, operation-wise, was a successful year."

Meanwhile, Vettel will bring a 13-point lead into the Brazilian Grand Prix, meaning a fourth-place finish will be enough to give the 25-year-old German his third successive title. If that happens, Vettel will join Michael Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio as the only drivers to win three championships in a row.

If Vettel is fourth and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso wins the race at the Interlagos track, both drivers will finish with 285 points, but the German will secure the title because he has more wins than Alonso — five to three. Vettel has finished fourth or better in 13 of the 19 races so far, including the last six.

Alonso and Ferrari have not been able to match the recent success of Vettel, who earned four of his victories in the second half of the season, but the Spaniard has been consistent in the last races, finishing on the podium in six of the final seven races.

"We know it will be difficult for us, but we are confident," Alonso said. "We must do our utmost, concentrating on ourselves and making no mistakes, and then we can see what Vettel has done.

"It’s been a championship of highs and lows for everyone, but now we must be perfect."

Alonso, who is trying to add to his titles in 2005 and 2006, is hoping for a reversal of roles from the 2010 season-ending race in Abu Dhabi, when he was the one with a lead but came out empty-handed in the end.

"In 2010 the situation was reversed, so I hope that once again the outcome goes in favour of the one who is behind … I think we can sleep more easily than our rivals. We have a lot to gain and little to lose and for them it’s the opposite."

It will be the sixth time since 2005 that the Formula One season will be decided at the Brazilian Grand Prix.

"There are 71 laps to go (to) decide the final outcome," Alonso said. "The efforts of several months will all come down to a very short space of time."

Reuters, Sapa-AP