The history of the Formula One Chinese Grand Prix makes an interesting read, though not for the financial backers. The Chinese government began enquiries over hosting an F1 event in the early 1990’s but a lack of infrastructure thwarted their efforts.
Having signed up the experienced organisers of the Macau GP, it was announced in 2002 that the Shanghai circuit would host the countries first Formula one race in 2004. The deal signed with Bernie Ecclestone was to run for eight years to the end of 2011.
Chinese Grand Prix milestones
The race in Shanghai has hosted a number of milestones over the years. The winner of the 2005 event, held as the season finale, was newly crowned world champion Fernando Alonso.
In 16 years of running the Chinese GP has crowned no less than 9 different winners and the last event held in Shanghai 2019 was Formulas One’s 1000th race weekend.
But even by 2008, the BBC was reporting senior race official, Qiu Weichang, had suggested that the money-losing race might be cancelled.
Despite poor attendances the event struggled on and it was only in November 2011 as the clock almost struck midnight on the Chinese GP that Bernie Ecclestone announced a new three years extension for the promoters.
Shanghai circuit top 5 largest in the world
The Shanghai International Circuit is in the top five largest motorsports venues in the world and can accommodate 200,000 spectators and is the currently the biggest on the F1 calendar.
Though since the inaugural race back in 2004 where over 200,000 spectators attended across the weekend, the event has struggled to even attract more than around 40,000 fans a day.
Formula One’s return in 2024 will follow a four year absence from China due to the authorities ongoing restrictions which began during the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, there are concerns as to whether the Shanghai event will survive beyond its current contract which concludes after the 2025 race weekend.
However, China’s first ever F1 driver Zhou Guanyu believes the sport’s popularity is now growing in China.Now in his third season of F1 Zhou has never raced at his home Grand Prix, something he regrets deeply.
Covid-19 lock downs ran too long
Even though the Chinese authorities abandoned their long running “zero Covid” policies and opened up again to tourists the decision was too late for the 2023 event in Shanghai to go ahead as planned this weekend.
“I’m disappointed but I kind of saw this coming because of the restrictions, we didn’t open the border early enough,” Zhou told Sky Sports.
“So when we had the race scheduled for April, I knew everything was too tight.
“I saw it coming but I don’t feel too bad because I feel like the home race will come, it’s just a matter of time.”
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The boom in Formula One’s popularity has been huge since the last Chinese GP was held and much of this is down to Netflix Drive to Survive series which is unavailable in China.
The number of F1 events is on the increase and the spectator attendances have sky rocketed around the globe.
Zhou now in his third season with Alfa Romeo believes this groundswell of newly found F1 fans will be replicated in China next year too.
“I have no doubts all the tickets will be sold out really quickly, and that it will be packed with people around the whole circuit.”
“I’ve felt the popularity improve growing up, [in] recent years, especially the last few years since I became an F1 driver.”
Zhou’s first home race could sell out
Gunayu Zhou may be wearing rose tinted spectacles whilst making such predictions about a resurgence in Chinese support for their home Grand Prix. Yet, next year will be the Chinese driver’s first home race and this could ignite the support of the local fans.
“I think the most important part, the next big step, will be having the home race so that people newly interested in Formula 1 can actually experience that themselves and they can really feel the impact and energy of the sport,” Zhou concludes.
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However, the mood music for the future of the Chinese GP beyond 2025 may not be good at present. Supply chain shortages due to Covid-19 has caused a rethink in the West being so reliant on Chinese manufacturing.
Further, the Chinese authorities are tacitly supporting Russian over its invasion of Ukraine, a position in conflict with the Western governments.
Combine these factors with a race that loses money year in year out and the line of new F1 promoters keen to host an event – and the future of the Grand Prix in Shanghai is shaky at best.
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Fernando with some driving tips for Nico 📻#F1 pic.twitter.com/lsXuY4jjcG
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 13, 2023