Following the recent Chinese F1 Grand Prix in Shanghai, won in controversial circumstances by Lewis Hamilton, China Sports Insider spoke to two fans who had been at the race to get their thoughts.
Zhu Xiaoya, 18, is college student who has been following F1 and other motor sports (including GP3) on TV for two years. She traveled from Beijing to Shanghai for the race with her cousin, Peng Wen, a 24-year-old market research analyst, who is a long-time sports fan, but new to F1. Both were attending their first Grand Prix.
China Sports Insider: Why did you decide to go to the race?
Zhu Xiaoya (ZXY): Before I started to watch F1, I followed La Liga and the Bundesliga with a lot of good friends. One of them told me all about F1 and that I should try it and and I soon fell in love with it. I’ve been a Fernando Alonso fan since the end of the 2012 season, but many of my friends told me that the actual race was a completely different atmosphere to watching on TV, and I wanted to experience that.
Peng Wen (PW): I have watched Formula 1 on TV before, but I only decided to go to the race because I was given a ticket and I had the time to go. I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to check it out!
CSI: What were your experiences from the race itself?
ZXY: The best thing was all the Alonso fans cheering and celebrating together, shouting and waving flags. It was something that I had never experienced before, and this passion for F1 was very interesting for me. But I was disappointed when they didn’t let the fans on the track at the end to celebrate underneath the podium, as they do at other Grand Prix races. That was a really strange decision.
PW: I had expected it to be like “The Fast and the Furious” – and I wasn’t disappointed. I have to say it was breathtaking, and the moment when the drivers started their engines and waited for the lights to go green was incredible. The noise of the engines, the smell of the tires and the crowd’s support all really surprised me.
CSI: What did you think about everything outside of the race itself?
ZXY: I think the transportation is very convenient at the Shanghai race, with direct access to the subway. Ticket prices are relatively reasonable for me, because students can get discounted tickets [300 RMB] in a good location in the stand. These things are good but the whole event and the atmosphere was still inferior to the races in Europe.
PW: The subway was probably very crowded, but there were no traffic jams on the road at all. The ticket price was pretty expensive [2,000 RMB] and it seems cheap tickets were quite limited and not easy to buy. I wasn’t satisfied with the food on offer – few options and long lines, but I am glad there was a Costa, and hopefully they can add a Subway or a McDonald’s in the future. In addition, it was raining during qualifying on the Saturday, but there was no official store to sell umbrellas or raincoats, only some vendors selling cheap raincoats at a ridiculous markup. Big events should provide cheap raincoats for free.
CSI: Will you keep watching Formula 1 on TV? Will you go back and see the race next year?
ZXY: Undoubtedly, yes. In fact, my friends and I are talking about going to watch the races in Singapore or in Japan in the future.
PW: I now know more about F1 – who the drivers are, what they look like, which teams they race for, how good they are, how the race works – so I think I will keep watching it on TV if I have time. But I am not sure whether I will go to Shanghai next year. Travelling from Beijing just costs too much time, energy and money, especially given the expensive ticket prices.
CSI: What are your thoughts about F1’s future in China? How do you see the sport growing here, and why?
ZXY: I’m not optimistic about F1’s prospects in China. Motorsports in China do not have a good foundation and the crowds are quite small. China’s automobile industry has developed rapidly, but it started too late, and that makes it hard for F1. With regards to sponsors, Chinese people are very proud that Weichai Power is a sponsor of Ferrari, but it’s more difficult on the drivers’ side: there are Chinese drivers, like Ma Qinghua, but it’s very difficult for them to become established in F1.
PW: I think F1 will grow in China, and it’s just a matter of time. China is growing internationally and more people are becoming involved in world-class events. A Chinese driver or team would of course help F1’s popularity, but I believe Chinese people will get involved as it becomes more relevant to them, just like soccer and other sports.
It’s hard to draw conclusions from the experience of just two fans, but it does seem that F1 is currently a luxury that only a few people in China can afford, and I have written previously on the tough challenges facing Formula 1 in China. That said, for any sport to become successful, it needs to create a connection with its fans, and there are clearly groups – albeit small ones – who are very passionate about F1, similar to the way soccer fans in China now are.
A Chinese driver or team would create that connection for many more Chinese people, but that doesn’t look like happening any time soon. For now, F1’s best bet is to target the growing luxury and sports car market: it’s far easier for F1 to convert a McLaren, a Ferrari or even an Audi owner into a fan, than someone in the smaller cities still dreaming of buying his or her first car.