Rush Hour: F1 returns to Shanghai
Shanghai, like China itself, is an incredible, complex, contradictory place: a city where ancient traditions sit alongside examples of jaw-dropping modernity. It is perhaps the only place in the world where the stunning vistas of 2010's World Expo, and its extreme architectural statements (Google the UK’s ‘seed cathedral’ for one such example) could look relatively normal.
Shanghai is as capable of concealing itself in dark, dusty corners as it is of illuminating itself from some of the world’s tallest and most impressive skyscrapers.
It is a city where you can feel both lost and found at the same time.
And it is a place that the Formula 1 community has warmed to immensely since it joined the calendar at the end of the 2004 season.
As with any new venue, it takes a little time for the circuit to develop and grow into its surroundings. Once the Chinese Grand Prix was moved from its original late-season position into an early flyaway slot, Formula 1 began to visit when spring was in full bloom, when the paddock was full of lotus blossom, weeping willows, and warm, sunny skies.
It’s a beautiful setting for what has become an often-intense, exciting and unpredictable race.
Hilton HHonors™ Race Concierge
For McLaren, the Shanghai International Circuit has been the venue for some particularly memorable races. Lewis Hamilton was the team’s first winner back in 2008, dominating the weekend off the back of a disappointing result the previous week in Japan. He arrived at the track brimful of purpose: setting fastest times in all bar one practice session, claiming pole position and leading all but a handful of laps on Sunday. It was one of the most determined and masterful performances of his championship year, which memorably culminated in him winning the title a fortnight later.
In 2010, Jenson won the team’s second Chinese Grand Prix victory. In extreme rainy conditions, Jenson once again excelled, dancing through the puddles to take his second win of the year and lead home a triumphant McLaren one-two.
That year, the team had good cause to celebrate: with the infamous Eyjafjallajökull volcanic ash cloud seeing flights cancelled throughout most of Europe, the team spent an additional week in the city until alternative transportation home could be arranged. The most circuitous route for one unlucky, stranded team member involved a five-stopper route home through Tokyo, Vancouver, New York, Paris and, finally, London!
A year later, the team struck again – and in equally dramatic circumstances. On Sunday afternoon, with half an hour before the start of the race, Lewis’s car sprung a fuel leak in the garage, prompting his mechanics into a scramble as they raced to fix the car before the pitlane closed and he would be forced to start from the pitlane.
In a blur of synchronised movement, Lewis’s car was hurriedly fixed, making it to the grid with a number of bodywork access panels and hatches still unfixed! Buoyed by the drama, Lewis drove a storming race, out-muscling Sebastian Vettel in the dying laps with a beautifully timed manoeuvre to win the first of three grands prix that year.
It’s been a happy place for McLaren, not least because Chinese Formula 1 fans have a passion and intensity that’s rarely seen anywhere else in the world. Arrive at Shanghai’s Pudong Airport during race week and you’ll be met by hordes of screaming boys and girls, bearing gifts for the drivers and excitedly waving flags and banners.
The airport isn’t the only scene of adulation: our residence for grand prix week – the Hilton Shanghai – is regularly populated by young fans, who wait patiently at the entrance to catch a glimpse of their racing idols as they depart for and return from the circuit each day.
And the traffic throughout the city is often as frantic as at any grand prix – the city never stops moving, and the narrow lanes and arterial routes run at full-pelt, with taxis and trucks careering between lanes leaving only the narrowest of margins.
In a way, Shanghai is the perfect venue for a grand prix – the city embodies Formula 1’s ethos of ultra-modernity, but also laces it with a respectful nod to the past. It’s a living, breathing entity that never stops moving, which consumes you, and which never stops thrilling.
Bring on the 11th Chinese Grand Prix!