Shanghai prepares for its first GP

The Formula One Grand Prix to be held over the weekend in Shanghai marks China's first foray into the international glamour sport.

updated: February 25, 2007 10:09 IST
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The Formula One Grand Prix to be held over the weekend in Shanghai marks China's first foray into the international glamour sport. That has generated massive civic pride in the country's largest, wealthiest and most cosmopolitan city, already home to a thriving auto industry and the country's tallest building. The Grand Prix, which Shanghai will host until at least 2010, adds to a string of top-tier sports events staged by China, including professional tennis and figure skating, in a quest for prestige to match its rising economic and political clout. The 5.4-kilometre-long circuit on Shanghai's west side was designed by German Hermann Tilke. It forms the shape of the Chinese character "Shang" - meaning "to rise" - which also forms the first part of the word Shanghai. The track has been described as fast and technical, with 14 turns and a 1.2-kilometre-long straight on which cars will hit speeds of up to 326 kph. Its tightening first turn and final straight have been singled out as its most interesting features. Snail bend track As drivers turn out of the starting straight, they will face a demanding snail-like bend that comprises two right turns taking them in almost a full circle followed by a hard left. The snail bend is considered tricky because of the gradient, as the track rises up by 11 metres at turn two before falling away again through turn three. Organizers say they've sold all 150,000 tickets available to the general public, bringing in more than 300 million yuan (US $36 million). Including those holding sponsors tickets, about 200,000 in all are expected to attend. "To tell you the truth, it is very hard to make profit out of the race. As we all know, F1 requires huge amount of investment in the construction and the operation of the circuit," says Mao Xiaohan, General Manager, Shanghai International Circuit. Tickets sale Most tickets have been sold to Chinese fans, reflecting how interest in auto racing is taking off in the world's fastest-growing car market. The Chinese Grand Prix is the third-to-last event on the 18-race F1 schedule, the second new event after the Bahrain GP for a sport that is looking to Asia to expand its audience. "After F1 comes to Shanghai, to China, I believe in the near future, maybe within 3 to 5 years, we will definitely have our own driver taking part in the race," adds Mao Xiaohan. As the sport's popularity rises in Asia, so too do expectations of more Asian Formula 1 drivers. Fans optimistic Optimistic fans hope to see a Chinese driver on the circuit within five years. "It requires big investment to take part in the F1 race, you have to keep on throwing money into it to become a F1 driver. Therefore I don't think there will be a Chinese driver in the near future," says Wang Wei Yan, Formula One fan So far, the closest China has to a Formula level race driver is Dutch-born but ethnically Chinese Tung Ho-Pin. The 21 year-old started his career in go-karts and has managed to climb the racing ladder to become a prominent Formula Three driver. His successes were noticed by the BMW Williams F1 team who last December made him the first Chinese driver to test a Formula One car. Players arrive Meanwhile, F1 drivers, including world champion Michael Schumacher of Ferrari, were to begin arriving on Tuesday. The race is also expected to see the return of Ralf Schumacher, Michael's brother, to Williams following a six-race absence after crashing into a wall at the US Grand Prix in Indianapolis in June. Former World Champion Jacques Villeneuve will also be returning with Renault after being without a ride all season. The Canadian replaces Jarno Trulli, who left to join Toyota. Teams have scheduled a parade of flashy promotional events to maximize the publicity value of their entry into what F1 is hailing as its most promising new market of 1.3 billion car-crazy potential fans. However several teams including BAR-Honda has been forced to rework their promotional materials to conform with China's ban on tobacco advertising.(AP)