Crowds warm to the action

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 September, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 September, 2004, 12:00am

Locals are enthusiastic about F1 but want their own heroes

The crowds grew on the second day of the Formula 1 event yesterday, with the hometown fans expressing the wish that a Chinese driver would compete one day to guarantee an even larger audience on the mainland.

Swelling numbers of people put the infrastructure at the Shanghai Circuit to the test, but fans said they got a taste of real excitement when Michael Schumacher spun off the track, drawing gasps from the crowd.

Although the world champion is a crowd favourite, mainland fans said they wanted their own heroes, just like the recent Olympic games when China ranked second in the medal tally. 'I'm looking forward to seeing a Chinese face in the race. That will make the event more exciting. I wish I could have a try in a car myself one day. The drivers look so cool,' said 19-year-old student Huang Xiaoqiu.

Spectators packed the grandstand to capacity yesterday, while the seats elsewhere were nearly full for the practice and preliminary runs. The organisers haven't released attendance figures.

Banker Shen Yongjun said he hopped into his car yesterday morning and made the nearly two-hour drive from the eastern city of Wuxi to attend the Grand Prix. Shen claimed he belonged to the 'first generation' of mainland F1 fans, since he started watching races on television in the early 1990s.

High ticket prices and ignorance about the rules had limited the mainland audience, Shen said, but he added that young people seemed to be taking to the sport. 'F1 is way too expensive for the majority of Chinese people,' he said.

Some fans said motor racing wasn't as accessible as basketball. The NBA has enjoyed a wave of popularity on the mainland, especially with Shanghai-born Yao Ming playing for the Houston Rockets.

But the novelty alone of F1 was enough to lure many to the races, especially the mainland's new rich, who have a love affair with automobiles. 'I am a fan of cars, but I don't know much about F1. F1 is so popular in the rest of the world, I wanted to come and find out the reason why,' Qiu Haibo said.

Lengthy lines awaited fans taking shuttle buses to the track yesterday, as the government encouraged people to leave their cars at home. With the arrival of the weekend, more people came with family and friends than on Friday.

Swelling numbers of people brought bigger audiences for a slew of promotional activities outside the track, with Bridgestone Tyre's dancing girls a crowd favourite - at least among male fans.

However, some fans complained about long waits and poor choice at the food concession stands: just two fast food chains and pricey Japanese-style lunch boxes.