A global stage for foreign dancers

By Luo Le Source:Global Times Published: 2014-4-18 5:03:02

Cars line up on the grid for the start of the Formula One Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai on April 14, 2013. Photo: IC

This weekend will witness the Formula One Chinese Grand Prix at Shanghai International Circuit, but it may face the cold shoulder from Chinese fans.

Facts are indispensable in F1. They can be seen everywhere in the paddock.

For instance, the Bahrain Grand Prix won by Lewis Hamilton, the 24th victory of the 29-year-old Briton's ­career, made him equal F1 legend Juan Manuel Fangio and enter the top-10 list of all-time F1 race wins.

To celebrate the 10th year of the F1 Grand Prix in Bahrain, the organizers rescheduled for a night race.

Shanghai will host the 901st Grand Prix in F1 history.

From the very first to the 901st, those incredible numbers bring fans passion, honor and happiness.

Unfortunately, most of them are irrelevant­ to Chinese motorsports.

In the 65 years of F1 history, the number of Chinese F1 teams and drivers' race starts remains ZERO.

Other triumphs

Some argue that Chinese drivers perform badly in global sports events like soccer and basketball.

The long-beleaguered Chinese men's national soccer team at least qualified for the World Cup in 2002, while the Chinese men's national basketball team finished eighth in the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008.

In recent years, Chinese sports fans have enjoyed domestic soccer and basketball triumphs: Guangzhou Evergrande won the Asian Champions­ League last year and ­former NBA All-Star Stephon ­Marbury is happy to stay with the two-time CBA champions­ Beijing Ducks rather than return to the US league.

But motor sports still have little attention in China.

Many Chinese just know Han Han and Jimmy Lin, or Lin Chih-ying, when mentioning Chinese racing drivers. Ironically, Han became famous early in 1999 as a talented young writer while Lin is a popular entertainer for more than 20 years.

Fernando Alonso of Ferrari drives during the Formula One Chinese Grand Prix in 2013 with the stand half-empty. Photo: CFP

Embarrassing status

Some racing enthusiasts can name two others: Ho-pin Tung and Ma Qing­hua. But the duo both failed to make the Grand Prix. What's worse, even enthusiasts cannot name a single Chinese world-class, F1 or national star driver. Why? There aren't any.

The only world-class racing symbol Chinese have is the Shanghai race circuit. Since the maiden China Grand Prix in 2004, only one weekend a year gains the attention of ordinary Chinese. The other days? The circuit has almost disappeared from public attention.

Actually, there are lots of other racing events at the circuit and all over China, but few have interesting or impressive stories, far fewer than those that happened at Silverstone, Spa-Francorchamps or Interlagos.

There can be no doubt the organizers did work hard, but they took a wrong path.

Ma Qinghua, former test driver of Caterham F1 team Photo: CFP

Champion example

Reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel, who holds ­numerous F1 records, has countless interesting stories from his racing life. The first chapter begins that as a child, he wanted to be the next Michael Schumacher.

Vettel was lucky. He could find a circuit, a racing car, a tutor, even funding. He could get everything he needed to be a driver, the same as Lewis Hamilton in England or Fernandao Alonso in Spain.

Most Chinese children do not have such an environment. It is true that there are many kinds of cars in front of them. However, they are just tools for driving instead of walking, let alone racing.

The result is that many Chinese kids love racing whereas few have the opportunity to be racing drivers as they do not have enough funding and guidance. To make matters worse, they can hardly find a circuit in the city.

The reason is China lacks a motor­sport culture. A world-class circuit, without any motor sport culture is just a lonely island in the racing world and a global stage filled with foreign dancers.

Instead of building a beautiful castle in the air, Chinese racing organizers should create a motor sport ­culture as soon as possible. This culture­ should be introduced especially to Chinese children.

Chinese racing fans thirst for an F1 driver and team to bring us joy and national honor in the near future, just like Ayrton Senna for Brazil or the Ferrari team for Italy.

The first priority is that the driver and the team need support from the Chinese people who are going to watch Sunday's race.

The author is a sports commentator with Titan Sports newspaper.

Posted in: Feature, Miscellany, Motorsport

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