China ex­tends F1 deal for three more years

Shang­hai leg to start a week later

Global Times - Weekend - - SPORTS - By Lu Wen’ao Agen­cies contributed to the story

China will con­tinue to host a For­mula One Grand Prix in Shang­hai for at least three more years, its gov­ern­ing body said Fri­day. The Chinese Grand Prix, which de­buted in Septem­ber 2004, will take place a week later on April 15 next year, swap­ping places with the Bahrain race which is mov­ing to April 8, F1 said in a state­ment. Un­der am­bi­tious new USbased own­ers Lib­erty Me­dia, F1 re­leased its 2018 race sched­ule in June with the Shang­hai leg only listed as pro­vi­sional, prompt­ing spec­u­la­tion it could be axed. “This great coun­try has al­ready demon­strated an over­whelm­ing show of inter- est in our sport and we firmly be­lieve there is still a great deal of un­ex­plored po­ten­tial here,” F1 Chair­man and CEO Chase Carey said in a state­ment.

The Chinese Grand Prix had be­come “one of the most pres­ti­gious and rec­og­nized events” on the F1 cal­en­dar, said Jiang Lan, chair­man of Shang­hai Juss Sports De­vel­op­ment which or­ga­nizes the race.

Lib­erty is in the process of re­build­ing F1 af­ter tak­ing over from its flam­boy­ant long-time ring­mas­ter Bernie Ec­cle­stone.

F1 was less pop­u­lar in China in re­cent years than dur­ing the Michael Schu­macher era due to mul­ti­ple rea­sons, in­clud­ing broad­cast­ing rights and down­grad­ing of en­gine noise at mo­tor­sports’ flag­ship race.

Sean Bratches, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of F1 com­mer­cial op­er­a­tions, be­lieved there’s room to change for F1 if it wants to im­prove its pop­u­lar­ity in Asia.

“We’re try­ing to cre­ate a cul­ture of trans­parency of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, unity among the com­po­nents of F1,” Bratches told the Global Times in a

re­cent in­ter­view.

F1’s panoply of new tech­ni­cal words like DRS (drag re­duc­tion sys­tem) and Halo sys­tem may also alien­ate some fans.

“We have things like DRS… No one knows what DRS is. They should be named ‘speed wings,’” said Bratches. “We are also hav­ing a conversation about Halo if that is the right name.”

The Halo sys­tem is a cen­tral pil­lar in front of the driver that sup­ports a pro­tec­tive loop above his head and pro­vides po­ten­tially life-sav­ing cock­pit pro­tec­tion.

Bratches also be­lieves im­prov­ing the en­gine sound is im­por­tant to F1’s re­vival in China. F1’s Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor Ross Brawn, a renowned for­mer motorsport engi­neer and F1 team prin­ci­pal, is lead­ing the push to im­prove the sound.

“From a mar­ket­ing stand­point to me, I am putting wind be­hind his sail,” Bratches said. “I am en­cour­ag­ing him to suc­cess­fully ac­com­plish that ob­jec­tive of height­en­ing the sound and bring­ing it back to the level it used to be.”

Many Chinese mo­tor­sports fans are also ex­pect­ing a Chinese driver to com­pete in F1. Some have pinned their hopes on Zhou Guanyu, an 18-year-old rac­ing in the FIA Euro­pean F3 event.

Zhou, who is at the Fer­rari driver academy, has fin­ished on the podium three times in the F3 race this sea­son. He was sin­gled out by Bratches.

“We hope that there will be Chinese driv­ers in the top-20 driv­ers of the world,” said Bratches.

“The driv­ers have to be the best in the world… There are ef­forts that could fos­ter the en­vi­ron­ment where that would oc­cur, in­clud­ing those with Zhou.”

This year’s Shang­hai race, won by world cham­pi­onship leader Lewis Hamil­ton for a record-ex­tend­ing fifth time, was set to be the last un­der the pre­vi­ous con­tract.

Fri­day’s an­nounce­ment comes as Malaysia – which pi­o­neered F1’s push into Asia – is set to host its last Grand Prix in Sepang, while Sin­ga­pore agreed a four-year ex­ten­sion ear­lier this month, keep­ing it on the cal­en­dar un­til 2021.

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamil­ton gets the check­ered flag to win the 2017 Chinese Grand Prix at the Shang­hai In­ter­na­tional Cir­cuit in Shang­hai on April 9.

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