All around Shanghai, posters and billboards are seen advertising the 1000th Grand Prix. For a country which for many would be described as ‘taking a while to understand Formula 1’, recent years have shown an avid fan base with fanatical supporters camping outside hotels and at the circuit itself. This weekend, an F1 Festival will be set up by Heineken for fans to experience the thrill of the race on big screens in downtown Shanghai and the roar of a real F1 car making a special appearance at the event. Many people will be attending the sold out Chinese Grand Prix for the first time and many children may hope to race one day. As for the drivers themselves, what made them want to be a Formula 1 driver in the first place?
Romain Grosjean: I started watching with my dad a long time ago. It was the time of the Ayrton Senna/Prost fight and it was exciting to watch. My dad was passionate about cars and one day he brought me to a race, not a Formula 1 race and I saw the cars going and thought that is what I would like to do. Then I was lucky enough in 1998 to come to the Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix Thursday practice and I saw the car and heard the noise of the engine and it was something very unique and special.
Sergio Perez: For me, similar, I remember the first race I watched with my Dad was 94 when Ayrton had his accident, that was the first race I ever saw and was quite a sharp moment, more for my dad than me. Being from Mexico, Formula 1 is not very big, it had been a while since we had drivers…but as a family we always loved the sport and I always wanted to be a Formula 1 driver.
Kimi Raikkonen: I don’t know which year it was, 80s, Keke was racing and blew up his tyre…I was always cheering for the Finnish guys and I never really, I didn’t think when I was a kid, I didn’t believe this would happen.
Alexander Albon: My hero was Michael Schumacher, that was the guy I always looked up to, I was Ferrari mad actually – I don’t know if I should say that or not – I was at Silverstone and had to fill out the top three drivers that would finish the race. I put Michael, Rubens and Montoya – and for some reason at that race that was happened actually. I won the prize and got to meet Michael and Rubens, I was a hardcore fan.
Following the Press Conference, the drivers then went off to prepare for the Drivers’ Autograph Session in pit lane. Fans were only able to attend with a specially numbered ticket as a way to maintain crowd control. However, even with guaranteed access to the session – some fans queued up for 8 hours to be as close to the front as possible. Definitely – an avid fan base here in Shanghai.
Several hours before the Official Drivers’ Press Conference, Robert Kubica had been out the back of the ROKiT Williams Racing Team Garage speaking to the media about the significance of the 1000th Grand Prix to him:
‘’I think it’s a great achievement for the entire community of Formula 1 and the organisers. It highlights the stability of Formula 1 and the amazing job that has been done in the past and is continuing now. From the organisers, from the FIA I think it’s a historical moment and for drivers I don’t think it is affecting us a lot. We prepare exactly the same as always so we have to work at it.
I am here as a driver and I am focused on my job. Definitely, it is great to be here and great to be able to participate in such a historic and important moment. But it’s a normal Grand Prix for me.
Kubica will be hoping it is not as normal as the first two races of the 2019 season which have seen the Williams team struggle – to say the least!