F1 preview on track
By Liang Yu
DON'T doubt your eyes next month when you see a big fleet of sleek Ferrari and Maserati racing and sports cars, led by a thrilling Ferrari Formula One car, on parade at the Shanghai International Circuit, the city's F1 Grand Prix motor racing track.
As part of the circuit's inauguration gala on June 6, the parade will not be the only thing to stun local motor racing fans. They may also be able to get a close encounter with world champion Michael Schumacher, who is expected to drive an F1 car on the 5.45-kilometre track.
Although the German's presence has yet to be confirmed - his Brazilian teammate Rubens Barrichello may take his place at the culmination of the parade - officials of Italian automaker Ferrari have promised that the company won't let local fans down.
"It will be a historical moment ... it's important for us to be here, and we feel it is a big honour," said Matteo Bonciani, Ferrari's communications director.
Under the command of the company's president, Luca di Montezemolo, reputed to be currently the most powerful figure in global F1 circles, the Ferrari and Maserati fleet will feature the F2003 GA that Schumacher drove to victory to win the F1 World Championships title last season, as well as two Maserati GT racing cars.
And more than 60 sport cars under the two brands will add additional sensation to the red storm in town.
"We want to show that we are not only a racing car factory, instead, we have also a strong commercial position," said Bonciani.
In that case, the projected sensational parade might be understood as a prelude to Ferrari carrying out further marketing activities aiming to increase car sales in China, since it looks as though the company's reign on the F1 track is unlikely to be shaken in the near future.
However, in the eyes of Yu Zhifei, deputy general manager of the Shanghai International Circuit Co Ltd, which oversees the construction and operation of the city's 2.6 billion yuan (US$325 million) F1 track, the arrival of the fanfared Ferrari fleet is expected to help enhance the brand image of China's motor racing sports.
"We need something of our own that attracts Chinese people at large to stay hooked on the quickly-growing sport," said Yu.
"And we need to make the best of the F1 platform to achieve that goal," he said.
On the same day of the Ferrari parade, the local circuit, which is the venue for the first-ever China F1 Grand Prix in late September, will usher in a brand new tournament: the 2004 China Circuit Championship.
Dubbed a top-notch tournament in China's motor racing community, the championship will be composed of a 1,600 cc and a 2,000 cc homemade car competition as well as Formula Renault, one of the most popular formula racing series competitions.
The six-round championship's second race will also be held at the venue in Shanghai from June 25-27, before it moves to the next leg, which is to be staged at the 4.32-kilometre circuit at Zhuhai of South China's Guangdong Province on August 7-8 and September 4-5.
The final leg will be held in Beijing in October.
While the new championship is regarded as a pilot run to test Shanghai's F1 track as well as the organizers' tournament operation capability, local fans at the heavily-invested facility can enjoy the thrill of racing months ahead of the F1's final local presence.
And the cost won't be high, as racing fans will be able to buy tickets for as little as 160 yuan (US$19) to savour the two days of racing at the circuit, and the ticket price for students is set at an even lower 80 yuan (US$9.50).