Chinese Grand Prix
The Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai is one of the newest races in the championship. It was established in 2004, and takes place on the Shanghai International Circuit. It is famously the most expensive track to have been constructed.
It is a fitting tribute to the current Chinese passion for construction, and it matches the impressive buildings that have sprung up throughout the city (and across all cities in the country). It is also the world’s most complex and demanding track, with 16 gruelling corners. Construction giants Ferrari have won three of the four championships that have been held so far.
History of the Chinese Grand Prix
Almost twenty years ago plans were put in place for China to become part of the motor racing world class competition. Although China has long been successful in many international sports, such as table tennis and gymnastics, motor sports have fallen somewhat behind.
The country is home to massive industrial construction, and many car parts are made there. Design and development of cars has never been in the forefront of Chinese industry, however. Relatively few people own cars and this could be behind the sport’s low popularity in the East. It is slowly becoming more popular with the ever growing bourgeois classes of Beijing and Shanghai.
Chinese Grand Prix
It was first proposed that a Formula One circuit be built in Zhuhai, located in the southern Guangdong province. This was completed in time for the 1999 Formula One World Championship but it did not reach the FIA standards and so was never used in international competition.
The government was not perturbed, however, and sought the assistance of the Macau Grand Prix organisers. Three years after the completion of the track at Zhuhai, a deal was announced between the Formula One Management company and the Chinese Government to host the Chinese Grand Prix for seven years provisionally from 2004.
Results of the Chinese Grand Prix
Rubens Barrichello won the first inaugural Chinese Grand Prix for Ferrari in 2004. Jensen Button came in second for BAR-Honda and Raikkonen third for McLaren-Mercedes.
In the 2005 practice races, McLaren were cited by many as the favourites. It was surprising therefore that Renault dominated the races for the first two days. There was speculation about the McLaren cars running light in the race, but with Alonso taking pole position from Fisichella, this soon became irrelevant.
Fernando Alonso won the race for Renault, and Kimi Raikkonen came second for McLaren-Mercedes as well as taking the fastest lap of the race at 1 minute 33.242 seconds. Schumacher came in third for Toyota. This was the only year in the history of the Chinese Grand Prix where Ferrari did not triumph.
Michael Schumacher won the 2006 Chinese Grand Prix for Ferrari. This was to be his final victory before his retirement from Formula One racing.
The 2007 Chinese Grand Prix was won by Kimi Raikkonen, again for Ferrari. It was also where Lewis Hamilton suffered a serious blow to his record and essentially dashed all hopes of winning the championship title that year.
Layout of the Track
The track was designed by Hermann Tilke, who also worked on the Bahrain and Turkey tracks. These are both seen as fairly uninspiring tracks, set in the desert. They are said to have very little atmosphere, despite his attempts at a complicated and tiring track.
The track at Shanghai involves fewer turns than these two but shares the long straight, three quarters of the way through the track, followed by a hairpin turn. Tilke also designed the track at Malaysia, which of all his work is the most similar to the course at Shanghai.
Tilke won the approval of the Chinese over the fact that the track is said to bear a resemblance to the Chinese character “shang”. This is the first part of the name of the city where the track is located (Shanghai) and means “ascend”. This is coincidental according to Tilke.
A 5.3 square kilometre area of swampland was converted in just 18 months to the quarter of a million capacity attraction. This is a startling rate compared to other international tracks, but nothing out of the ordinary in Chinese terms where the rate of building and generation is incredible.
The course is 5.451km long and the race consists of 56 laps. The entire race is 305.066 km long. The fastest lap time was set in 2004 by Michael Schumacher who completed a lap in 1 minute and 32.238 seconds. It is one of the few Grand Prix tracks where cars exceed speeds of 200 miles per hour.
In addition to the Chinese Grand Prix, the track is home to the MotoGP world championship, the V8 Supercar Championship and the A1 Grand Prix.
Controversy in the Chinese Grand Prix
Former State Senior Statistician, Yu Zhifei, was the manager of the Shanghai Grand Prix circuit. He was political ally to Chen Lianyu, the most senior Communist Party Official to have been convicted of corruption in China. Yu Zhifei was investigated about the abuse of one third of a £670 million pension fund.
The money was thought to have been used for illegal loans and investments. He was also accused of using public money to buy a house. He was eventually convicted in early 2007 and sentenced to four years in prison. Yu Zhifei was responsible for bringing the Grand Prix to China, and was the main promoter before his conviction. This came as a rather embarrassing blow to Chinese motor racing.
How to get there
Travelling to China is becoming increasingly cheap as it becomes a more prominent power in the business world. Single air fares can be purchased for as little as £250 and returns for £300 if booked in advance.
The cheapest tickets must be booked directly with Chinese companies, rather than through a travel agent. These can be located via the internet and then bought in person. It may also be a lot cheaper to fly to Beijing and then get an internal flight to Shanghai which can be bought on the day at Beijing airport.
Some companies offer all inclusive tourist packages, but these will usually involve a large mark up on the flight and the cost of a guide for your stay. This option would, however, be the easiest way to visit the Grand Prix. Travel within China for English speakers is slowly becoming easier, although it can be very confusing even for the most experienced travellers.
The Shanghai International Circuit is located in the Jiading District of Shanghai, which is 30 kilometres from the centre of the city and 20kilometres from the Shanghai Hongqiao Airport. If staying in the centre there are shuttle buses to the circuit from the city centre.
These will undoubtedly be incredibly busy, and potentially very difficult to get on, especially if you speak no Cantonese and are not used to the Chinese queueing system. Unless you are with a package tour company, the most straightforward way to get there may well be by taxi. Most hotels will have someone who speaks decent English.
They may be able to give you concise instructions on braving the public transport. Failing that, ask for the name of the track to be written in Cantonese on a piece of paper that you can then give to a taxi driver. Don’t forget to get the name of your hotel written down also for your return journey.
If you are hiring a car you must buy a parking pass. These cost around £30 for a car or minibus and £60 for a coach. There are strict rules regarding which ticket you may purchase, according to how many entrance tickets to the Grand Prix you have.
Tickets are not currently on sale for the 2008 Chinese Grand Prix. Tickets will be available from the Official Formula One Website. Tickets can either be purchased for each qualifying round, or for the final race, or for the three days. It is set to take place on the 17th, 18th and 19th of October 2008. Tickets can also be purchased as part of a package which can be tailored to include flights, transfers and accommodation.