The Inside Line #51: A Shanghai surprise

TILI Logo PrintRubens Barrichello wasn’t often lost for words – and the Brazilian was always a favourite of the Formula One media as a result – but this time he was forced to pause. It was the Friday press conference of the first F1 weekend in Shanghai back in 2004, and the man who would win the inaugural Chinese Grand Prix two days later was asked about some of the best driving he’d seen that weekend. And as anyone who has been a passenger in certain parts of China would understand, it wasn’t on Hermann Tilke’s brand-new race track.

“They say Brazilian drivers are good because of the traffic – they should have many drivers here. They should be all in Formula One! Unbelievable,” he eventually said, prompting much laughter in the press room. My own first journey back and forth to the Shanghai International Circuit that weekend had taken around three hours, as my driver [1] had no idea where it was, had no idea how to get there, and was wondering why the freeways linking the sprawling metropolis with the circuit 40km away were still being built a day before F1 cars were set to take to the track for the first time. Once I got there, I still vividly remember hundreds of locals sitting alongside the start-finish straight at intervals of five metres, trimming the trackside grass to be dead-level with the edge of the tarmac with kitchen scissors.

While the locals have never really embraced (or can’t afford to go to) Formula One in Shanghai after the first couple of years produced decent crowds keen to see what this ‘new’ sport was, the travelling F1 troupe has come to enjoy the track layout at the first of the ‘mega-circuits’ that has been followed by the likes of those in Abu Dhabi, Austin, Istanbul [2] and many others. Yes, the visa process to get into China as a foreign journalist is best described as labour-intensive; yes, the traffic is a nightmare, and yes, the air quality thanks to the many concrete factories in the industrial area near the track is pretty average. But Shanghai always produces a good spectacle, and this year’s Chinese GP comes with plenty to live up to after the last race in Bahrain.

A preview of the likely storylines set to emerge in Shanghai is the focus of Episode 51 of ‘The Inside Line’, while the ongoing noise debate surrounding the new-for-2014 cars gets the going-over. Everyone and their dog seems to have an opinion on the sound produced by this year’s 1.6-litre V6 turbos, and we’ve canvassed a wide selection of views from those inside and on the periphery of the sport, choosing to avoid others who test the wind for the prevailing sentiment on any issue to do with F1 and then vehemently argue the complete opposite in order to appear controversial. [3]

There’s plenty more on this week’s edition of ‘The Inside Line’, so make like a Shanghai motorist and hurry home to see it. Catch it on SPEED TV Australia (Foxtel/Austar channel 512) at 7pm AEDT on Wednesday April 16, and on ESPN (Foxtel/Austar channel 508 in Australia) at 9.30pm AEDT Thursday April 17.

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[1] This guy was clearly the best driver I’ve had at any event I’ve ever been to. Patient, enthusiastic, slightly amused by my lack of intelligible directions and beside himself when I offered him a $10 tip after he was forced to drive aimlessly for most of the afternoon.

[2] Clearly the best of Hermann Tilke’s circuits, and (of course) one F1 doesn’t go to any more. Such a waste.

[3] One website this week, in its summation of what others were saying about the Bahrain GP, referred to the blog produced by one senior member of the F1 press pack who hasn’t written a story in years where he hasn’t plagiarised someone else’s copy as a “bog”. Mistakenly. I think.

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