Despite being a Formula One fanatic for as long as I can remember, I have never actually got around to going to see a race. So I arrive in China, just three hours travelling away from the Shanghai Circuit; I think “Why not?” Writes James Richardson…
The cab ride from ZUMC to Hangzhou train station was, let’s say ‘eventful’; driving on the pavement, weaving through seemingly impossibly tight gaps, taking a sharp left turn across three lanes of moving traffic; it was a mixture between a roller coaster and some sort of religious experience. Thankfully we arrived at Hangzhou station (mostly) unscathed, sweating profusely and thanking our lucky stars that we arrived safely.
We set off on the Bullet Train towards Shanghai, reaching speeds of around 220 mph (352 km/h), faster than any of the Formula One drivers would manage that day. Taking a cab from Shanghai to the circuit, Sean and I arrived at one of the entrances to this enormous complex and attempted to find a ticket office. A long time, several offers of various dubious goods and what seemed like many miles later, we located what was presumably the sole ticket office. Yes, one office for a Grand Prix with a capacity of at least 100,000. By this time we were thirsty, our feet were sore and we were desperately in need of a nice sit down so we discovered our seats and settled down to watch the race.
The noise, oh the noise it was awe inspiring; even when taking the cars slowly to the grid the engines screamed, the gear changes banged; everything reverberating around the enormous concrete arena in which we were seated. The race started, Sebastian Vettel immediately lost two places to the British drivers from McLaren, we screamed, we roared and the race was on. As the pack expanded, the gaps between the all encompassing noise lessened until there was no gap in between the screaming engines and the seemingly exploding gear changes and the visceral noise was ceaseless.
It was a fascinating race, we were watching from the main overtaking spot and we saw some spine-tingling action, many daring overtakes and an awful lot of close racing ensued. At one point Vitaly Petrov tried to overtake two cars at the same time, in doing so, he locked both his front brakes and slid straight on, immediately losing the two places he had won so daringly but the action was well appreciated by the crowd.
It was not only racecraft that made this such an interesting race to watch but also the tactical battles between the two main protagonists, McLaren and Red Bull meant that the race was tense and full of intrigue as well. Eventually, the three stop strategy of the McLarens prevailed against the two stopping Red Bulls (although Mark Webber did exceptionally well to climb from 18th on the grid to finish third.
And so, a Brit won the first ever Grand Prix I have been to see and it just happened to be in China, a country of juxtapositions: high-tech buildings being constructed using bamboo scaffolding, expensive electronics being transported by overloaded scooter; the way this country combines and contrasts the old and new is wonderful and also a little frightening. I have mentioned in a previous post on this blog that the scale of this country is simply overwhelming and this adventure was no exception. It does not look a long way to Shanghai from Hangzhou but it is still a three hour journey encompassing taxi, train and metro to make our way to and from the circuit.
It was a visceral experience, full of noise, excitement and action. Who said Formula 1 was boring?