This weekend should have brought about the seventeenth Shanghai Formula One Grand Prix. However, due to the global impact of COVID-19, this race has been postponed (not cancelled) and millions of racing fans in China, largely comprised of Team LH, wait to see whether there will be any competitive running of Formula One cars in 2020.
September 26th 2004 was the first Chinese Formula 1 Grand Prix and fan favourite Rubens Barrichello was the victor with the equally adored Jenson Button and Kimi Räikkönen joining him on the podium. Both racers either side of the much-loved Brazilian would also have their moment on the top step in future years – Räikkönen in 2007 and Button in 2010.
Out of sixteen Formula 1 Grand Prix weekends to be held in Shanghai, there have been a total of nine different race winners. However, Lewis Hamilton has been victorious in China 4 times in the last 6 years which no doubt led to his adoration in this region of his global fanbase. Hamilton also would have been confident of further success in 2020 having claimed victory in the widely publicised and excessively hyped 1000th Formula One Grand Prix last year in Shanghai.
Due to this current lack of real-world racing, more and more Formula 1 stars have joined the world of esports and as a result, the ‘Race for the World’ Championship was established by the drivers. The highlight of this is always the insight into how drivers feel when racing at certain circuits. During the first ‘Race for the World’ event, the opening race was held at Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi before moving on to Silverstone, United Kingdom – much to the relief of George Russell:
“This track is so much better than Abu Dhabi.”
To begin the second ‘Race for the World’ event, Master of Ceremonies and participant Nicholas Latifi, randomly drew out ‘Singapore’ and this was met with a chorus of ‘No, no, no’ from his fellow racers. Although, it is worth remembering that this is their opinion of racing the circuit in the virtual world.
However, drivers certainly have circuits that they do not enjoy as much as others, so what does Shanghai bring to the F1 calendar?
Even though the Chinese fans and all those attending the race always bring their passion with them to Shanghai…the circuit itself has come under criticism.
The SAIC International Circuit took 18 months to make and the location is far out of Shanghai in the Jiading District on swampland. As a result, the venue takes over an hour to travel to from the center of the city. This also is one of the reasons that the drivers and teams rarely see the heart of Shanghai due to preferring to stay at a hotel closer to the circuit – for obvious reasons.
When racers are not immersed in the city, it can make it hard to form an attachment to it. Obviously, for the Grand Prix held in Monaco, Canada, Singapore and Australia, to name a few, these circuits are in the heart of a bustling environment which captivates the interest of drivers and fans alike.
Despite this, the Shanghai F1 Grand Prix has certainly played its part in deciding a World Championship. None more so than in 2007 when Lewis Hamilton’s F1 World Drivers’ Championship hopes, in his rookie year, wear dealt a huge blow. Race fans will long remember the image of Hamilton entering the pit lane, having chosen to wait until the last minute to change tyres on a drying track, and as a result gently sliding off the greasy entrance to then be stuck in a small gravel trap.
However, Mercedes may not have had everything their own way this year because Red Bull would also have felt confident of victory in 2020 due to a combination of the racing talent of Max Verstappen and the history the track holds for the team.
In 2009, Red Bull Racing triumphed memorably when Sebastian Vettel registered the team’s first ever Formula One Grand Prix win having conquered the Shanghai rain in doing so. In more recent years, the pure race craft displayed by Daniel Ricciardo outbreaking his rivals charging through the pack to claim victory in 2018 for Red Bull, was certainly an encounter to remember along with his infamous rallying cry of ‘Get it girl, get it’ as he cheered his RB14 through the corners to cross the finish line ahead of the chasing pack.
Now, there is unfortunately a question mark over any racing in 2020 and former FIA President Max Mosley has recently made clear what he would do if he was still in charge:
“There’s no guarantee that we’ll be able to race again in July, it’s even very uncertain. If we cancel the season now it will be clearer for the teams and Grand Prix organisers to take action and plan for the future”
What history shows is that every now and then Shanghai battles on the asphalt really are something to savour. What we can also be certain of is that when F1 does finally return to Shanghai, whether in 2020 or not, it will most likely bring a record crowd and another encounter to treasure.
For now, like so many millions the world over, we wait and stay safe whilst also remaining positive of brighter days to come.