Shanghai set for F1 debut

Shangahi's brand new International Circuit will stage the Chinese Grand Prix in September.

updated: February 25, 2007 10:07 IST
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On the 26th of September, China will become the newest member of a very exclusive club. The 16th round of the Formula One season will take place in Shanghai for the first time, on a purpose-built track which has already been described as the best Grand Prix circuit in the world. Many of the city's 16 million inhabitants might seem unmoved by the prospect of Michael Schumacher and company visiting Shanghai, but when the race itself is run, 200-thousand spectators are expected to attend and millions more will be glued to their television sets. 'Paris of the East' Once known as 'the Paris of the East', Shanghai is set to rival Malaysia's Sepang circuit as the centre of Asian motorsport, almost in spite of the huge local support for more traditional two-wheeled transport. At a cost of over $ 500-million, the Shanghai International development represents the pinnacle of current circuit design, and reflects both the city's high-tech reputation as well as the speed with which it has developed since China opened up to the rest of the world. The top man at the Shanghai International, Mao Xiaoham, thinks that the new circuit has given the Formula One world a taste of things to come. "First of all, I believe Shanghai has built a world class circuit and up to now, the best circuit in the world and I think that this is already part of Formula One and is contributing to the whole event," said Mao Xiaoham, Chairman of the Shanghai International Circuit. There's even a futuristic monorail service to bring the fans in from the airport. Using magnetic levitation technology (MAGLEV), this train can travel at 430 kilometres per hour (267 mph), eclipsing even the fastest Formula One machine. Colour scheme An astonishing amount of thought has gone into the design of the circuit, even down to the marriage of red and yellow in the colour scheme. In Chinese culture, red symbolises luck, while yellow gives the track an aura of power - two things that every Formula One driver requires. The stands are built in the shape of lotus flower leaves, typically Chinese, but also balancing technology with nature. Track designer Herman Tilke, along with his collaborator Peter Wahl, are more than confident that Shanghai's 5.5 kilometre length, with the longest straight in the championship and two 'snails' - hairpins that coil back on themselves – will provide the top drivers in the world and their support staff the sternest of tests. "We have a lot of fast and medium fast corners, two slow corners and I think it will be a challenge. Also, I think it will be very difficult to set up the car here because of the long straight and on the other hand we have a lot of corners, so they need a lot of down force for the corners and for the long straight they need aerodynamics, so we will see," said Herman Tilke, track designer. In June the track was officially opened, and with the Chinese public never having seen a Formula One car on a track before, what better introduction could there be than the Ferrari F2003-GA machine - the car that brought yet another world championship to the house of the prancing horse. 'Impressive circuit' Driven by former Ferrari great Gerhard Berger, the car looked entirely at home on the circuit. But what would the drivers think of the newest addition to the Grand Prix programme? Austria's Berger thinks everyone will be pleased at how the programme has turned out. "It's a very modern circuit. Every new circuit usually gets all the experience from all the other circuits, so the last circuit is always the best. So, it is a modern circuit, it is challenging, also there is a great ambience here so they (the F1 teams) are going to like to be here," said Berger. Of course, the Shanghai International circuit boasts the latest in safety and electronic monitoring - race control will use 40 cameras to keep an eye on every centimetre of the track. As well as the standard run-off areas, 174-thousand tyres ring the circuit along 6.5 kilometres of crash protective barriers, in addition to the 9 kilometres of approved safety fencing. At the end of September Shanghai will be able to add another reason to visit this most modern of cities. It's hoped that Formula One drivers, teams and fans alike will fall under the spell of a location at the cutting edge of modernity and, along with the local welcome, become one of the set pieces on the F1 calendar. (AP)