The Chinese Grand Prix was fantastic. We had some excellent seats, towards the end of the grandstand, which afforded us excellent views of both the main straight and also the first/second/third corner complex.
The facilities at the circuit were generally good – better than Malaysia at least – with a range of eating facilities, clean toilets and things to do before the event. In Malaysia there were only 6 portaloos for 4 stands worth of people, and one dodgy food vendor.
Like most circuits, Shanghai International GP Circuit is actually no where near Shanghai. In order to move the maximum capacity crowd of 200,000 people to the circuit, the organisers laid on complimentary coaches from Shanghai city centre to the track.
It took a good hour’s coach journey to get there. On the way we passed some of the most baron and desolate areas I’ve ever seen. The highway skirted through a number of rural and industrial towns, often passing for no apparent reason immediately behind or in front of houses, despite the abundance of available land. We passed some evidently poor farming communities, with dilapidated housing and few amenities. Life appeared hard for the people living in these areas, a stark contrast to the glitzy and affluent event we were about to attend.
Along the route a number of things caught my attention:
- Watchtowers – even in the most remote areas, there appeared to be what looked like watch towers looking over the communities. They were reminiscent of the ones found in Northern Ireland, although curiously they tended to be located in the distance away from the highway (which explains the poor photography of them, sorry)
- Apartment blocks – the rapid development of China was evident even in the rural areas. In the middle of no-where, large apartment complexes consisting of maybe 6-8 apartment blocks were being built. Presumably this is to tackle poor traditional housing that we witnessed along the way. However I couldn’t help thinking about the destruction of rural community cohesion that will occur when you move these people into high-rise housing (similar issues will no doubt occur to those that occurred in the UK in the 60’s and 70’s when similar type housing was in vogue)
- Electricity pylons – everywhere you looked there were huge swathes of pylons sweeping through the countryside. Presumably to fuel Shanghai’s ever growing electricity requirements, although their density and frequency made the environment depressing – particularly in the smoggy mist that hung low in the air on the morning of race day.
Travelling by coach on China’s highways was a real experience, I can tell you! The coach drivers thought nothing of using the hard shoulder to overtake, despite the availability of the inner overtaking lane (presumably it was easier to steer the coach one lane into the hard shoulder rather than two lanes over to the overtaking lane). Overtaking (and ‘undertaking’) occurred on every other lane too. “Mirror, signal, manoeuvre” was replaced with “honk horn a few times, begin to steer coach into desired lane, honk horn again if other driver hasn’t moved out of your way yet, steer coach into lane).
The only real annoying aspect of the coach system was that the circuit organisers had designated car parks at the bottom of the circuit as the terminus. This was at the opposite side the circuit to the grandstand where the lowest priced seating was located. I guess I’m being a bit snobby but it seemed a little backwards to locate the bus terminal the furthest distance from where people with the most expensive tickets would be sitting.
Shanghai boasts the longest straight in F1, at over 1km long. Great if you’re doing 220mph in an F1 car, but not so great if you’re travelling 5mph by foot. It took a good 30 minutes to walk around the parameter of the track to get to our seats.
China is world renowned for the amount of counterfeit goods (or “genuine copies” as they are often more politely referred to) that are produced there. I was quite surprised that the authorities and circuit organisers were allowing people to hawk knock-off F1 caps outside the event (although a few were removed).
It soon became quite clear that most of the sellers had no clue about Formula 1, with many of them trying to persuade me to buy a Ferrari or McLaren cap despite me wearing already wearing BAR/Jenson Button cap and showing support for the British driver.
Nevertheless, during our ‘stroll’ to and from the grandstand, Sofia and I did check out some of the merchandise on offer – not because we wanted to buy any but because some of the mistakes were just plain comical.
Their misunderstanding of the sport, it seemed, didn’t just stop with their selling technique. The people producing the counterfeit caps had obviously decided to take it upon themselves to “improve” the propositions they were making by changing the colours, numbers and other details of the merchandise.
Fancy a Team McLaren Mercedes cap (which should normally be grey/black) in Ferrari red? What about a Fernando Alonso cap (who drove the number 5 car this year) sporting lucky number 7 instead? Perhaps the best knock-off of all was a McLaren Mercedes flag that had “Go Alonso” printed on it (Alonso driving for Renault this year and next year of course – unless the counterfeiters know some insider information the rest of us hardcore fans have missed)?
Perhaps the most surprising thing of all was that people were buying this crap. Sure, the caps were going for 50 – 100RMB (£3.50 – 7) instead of the usual 300RMB (£21) for the “official version” inside the track. But having paid as much as £300 for a race ticket (plus the expense of getting to China), it seems mad to purchase some second-rate knock off cap in the hope of saving a few pounds.
The grand prix itself was exciting, with two safety car incidents that really shook things up a bit. If you’re an F1 fan you probably watched the race already, otherwise you probably aren’t that interested so I won’t go into the detail.
The one thing which made the race for us was my radio scanner. Most of the teams (other than Ferrari and McLaren) transmit both pit-car and engineering radio traffic ‘in the clear’ – meaning anyone with a radio scanner that works on the correct frequencies can listen in. Hey, I’m a techie – what do you expect? 🙂
We were also able to tune into the ITV commentary which was useful as otherwise the amount of information available to you in the stand is limited (other than what you can see).
The moment that will stay with me the most from the day is the absolutely deafening sound of 20 cars screaming away from the start line towards the first corner. It is so loud, I can’t tell you how exhilarating the experience is. You can feel the vibrations in your chest and your ears begin to hurt yet the excitement is so great you don’t care.
I realise that for many, flying almost halfway around the world to attending a 2 hour sporting event seems like a mad thing to do. However the atmosphere, excitement and anticipation of an F1 race is like nothing else you can imagine.