In 1995 the city of Adelaide had a population of one million. That year, South Australia’s capital held its final Grand Prix and the race drew a record crowd of 250,000. That’s a remarkable statistic and it shows just how popular the event was with locals and tourists alike.
Shanghai currently has a population of 19 million, yet in 2009 the Chinese Grand Prix drew a crowd of roughly 40,000, and many of those tickets were giveaways. Whilst this isn’t a totally fair comparison, it does indicate that the Chinese Grand Prix hasn’t yet developed to its full potential.
Why isn’t Formula One more popular in China
There may be a number of reasons why local fans have not fully embraced the Grand Prix in Shanghai. Tickets prices are disproportionate to the average wage, there are no local drivers or teams to support, and Formula One lacks a casual fanbase since most of the races are broadcast live in China very late on a Sunday night.
However, those issues might have been overcome if the race had been held at a different venue. China is the world’s most populous nation and Formula One seems to have missed the opportunity to attract a very special crowd.
Shanghai International Circuit
The Shanghai International Circuit is technically very interesting, and it’s facilities are by far the best in the world, but it lacks the character of more established venues. The track is one of the more generic Tilke-dromes.
Most of the races on the F1 calendar have their own characteristics and that’s what makes them special. Monaco is different to Spa, which is different to Monza, which is different to Silverstone, which is different to Albert Park. Of the new races to enter Formula One in recent years, only Singapore and Abu Dhabi have succeeded in being truly unique. The most popular F1 races are those which are noticeably different, so if the sport wants to create a genuinely special event in China it needs to try something new.
Moving the Chinese Grand Prix
Why not create a venue designed for a crowd of half a million people? If the Indianapolis 500 can attract 300,000 spectators, it’s not unthinkable that Grand Prix could do likewise.
Wouldn’t it be special if the Chinese Grand Prix had the largest single day attendance of any sporting event in the world! Now THAT would be unique.
A monumental crowd would give the event an unrivalled atmosphere and would also create a better impression to millions of others watching from around the world. Part of the reason the Australian Grand Prix looks great on TV is because there are always fans in the background. It’s almost like having a laugh track to a sitcom – if you can see people enjoying themselves it makes the event more enjoyable to watch.
Being the world’s most populous nation, China would have been a great place to build a circuit specifically designed for an especially large number of trackside spectators. The sport missed its chance to create something that could have resulted in Formula One’s biggest crowd.
It would be a sickening waste of the investment in Shanghai’s Grand Prix facilities to construct a brand new venue now, but it’s not impossible to suggest that a rival city could make a bid for the F1 event one day in the future. Perhaps the owners of the Zhuhai International Circuit could steal the race away from Shanghai with a plan to revolutionise the Chinese Grand Prix.
Introducing the Zhuhai Superdome
Zhuhai was originally scheduled to host the inaugural Chinese Grand Prix in 1999, but the race was cancelled when the nearby facilities were unable to support the Formula One circus. The racetrack itself is built to the FIA’s international standards, but obviously there is a lot of work to be done before a Grand Prix could ever be held there.
However, if the money could be found in China’s growing economy, the owners of Zhuhai have the potential to create a very special venue that would be hugely beneficial to Formula One in the country.
The layout at Zhuhai is well designed in that it’s over four kilometres long but covers a relatively small area. With a bit of imagination, and a few million tons of soil, it wouldn’t be impossible to surround the entire circuit with a ring of tall grass hills that would effectively transform the venue into a giant stadium. The extensive banking would provide space for hundreds of thousands of cheap general admission tickets, and importantly, race fans would get to see most of the circuit whilst remaining close to the action directly in front of them. You could even build an extra ‘mountain’ of fans in the middle of the circuit to give the venue a bit of geographic texture.
It would be very expensive to remodel the land that already exists, and organisers would literally have to move mountains to make it happen, but the setting would be fantastic for a Grand Prix.
With a few subtle changes Zhuhai would have a high average speed, and since the lap is relatively short the cars would stay bunched up. The atmosphere at the venue would be brilliant, and it would also look great on television.
More than anything else, it would be unique.
The Chinese Grand Prix has the potential to be a marquee event on the Formula One calendar.