NOVEMBER 26, 2008
It takes two to tango
It seems that the authorities in Shanghai have become rather uppity at reports that the Chinese Grand Prix may not continue in the city at the end of the current contract. The authorities say that the reports, quoting the city's deputy sports director, Qiu Weichang, were incorrect, probably due to problems of translation. The message now being delivered is that Shanghai wants to keep the race. The track, which cost around $250m to build, can accommodate large numbers of spectators, but ticket prices are so high that for most people in China they are the equivalent of a month's salary. Shanghai says that F1 is still a long-term project and that it will take time to build an audience but that the race will probably go on after the end of the current contract.
The big question is whether of not Formula 1 is interested in Shanghai - and that is another story. Formula 1 will keep keep going to China as long as China continues to pay the fees being demanded but beyond that there are strategic questions about the best way to build interest in the sport in China. Hosting races in a vast white elephant of a stadium, out in the middle of nowhere, at prices that the man on the street cannot even consider does not seem like a very effective way forward and there are signs that F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone may want to try to spark interest by going down the same route in China as he has in Singapore. The night race in Singapore was a smash hit for those who watched it live and for TV audiences around the world. The track may need a little tweaking to improve the opportunities for overtaking but the spectacle is already established and the event is going to grow in stature each year. Ecclestone knows that he could create a similar phenomenon in China, if he can find the right venue. What is needed is a city with suitable landmarks and desire to build tourism. There are a lot of availabel choices as China boasts a lot of large cities, capable of supporting an F1 race. Beijing has much to offer in this respect but there are many other choices as well, such as Suzhou, which is filled with historic buildings, parks and waterways. There are many imperial palaces in cities such as Chengde, and temples in Xian or in the ancient city of Nanjing.
Figuring out the best place for F1 in China is not going to be the work of a moment, but it is fairly clear that there are other places in China which might offer better alternatives for Formula 1.