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Chinese racer hits the Shanghai circuit in style for Caterham
The Formula One Chinese Grand Prix, celebrating its 10th anniversary, welcomed its own local hero on Friday in Shanghai.
Ma Qinghua, a 25-year-old Shanghai native, completed a free practice on the Shanghai International Circuit as the reserve driver for Caterham, becoming the first Chinese-born driver to race around the home track.
Although it was only a practice, it was enough to delight Chinese fans.
"I'm here particularly to watch Ma's practice. Otherwise, the session is not all that attractive," said Wang Kai, a university student in Shanghai.
Ma completed 20 laps in the morning practice session with fastest of 1 min, 43.545 sec. The time ranked last among the 22 drivers who took part in the session, which was topped by Nico Rosberg of Mercedes (1:36.717).
The day's fastest time went to Felipe Massa of Ferrari (1:35.340) in the afternoon session.
It was the fifth F1 practice session for Ma. He drove for the now-defunct HRT team in Italy, Singapore, Abu Dhabi and the US last year.
"The practicing went pretty smooth today it has provided me with valuable experience on the circuit," Ma said after the session.
"It was the first time I have driven a Caterham F1 car and I'm still learning. There was only one set of tires for me in the practice, so I had to be careful.
"It's a great honor for me to be here representing China. While driving on the circuit, I was focusing on the race. But off the track, I'm proud of being a Chinese driver at an F1 GP here."
Ma, who began racing at the age of eight, has created many firsts for Chinese drivers.
He joined the HRT drivers' development program in April last year, becoming the first Chinese-born driver to get the chance to move into the world's top motor-racing format. He also became the first Chinese driver to take part in a Grand Prix weekend when he replaced Narain Karthikeyan in the first Friday practice session of the Italian Grand Prix in September.
After HRT collapsed at the end of last season, Ma moved to Caterham early this year. He is racing for the team in the GP2 section this season and will continue his role as a test driver for the F1 outfit.
Ma finished 21st in the opening race of the GP2 season in Malaysia before withdrawing from the second stop due to illness. The next GP2 stop for him will be in Bahrain next weekend.
The team was satisfied with Ma's performance in his home debut with the team, as going fast is not Ma's primary role, at the moment.
"He did an extremely good job for us today," said Tom Webb, head of communication with Caterham.
"He was set a very specific run plan. We asked him to do a number of tasks for us and required him to be careful, considerate and not make any mistakes. He did exactly that. We couldn't ask for any more from a driver of his age and his experience. So we are very pleased with how he performed."
Being the local hero in Shanghai, Ma, who was just a young spectator sitting in the stands at the first Chinese Grand Prix in 2004, has drawn great media attention. Besides practicing, Ma's schedule is full of interviews, both in Chinese and English.
Ma, who speaks fluent English, feels no pressure and is happy to be an ambassador for Chinese motor racing.
"I consider it as a good opportunity (rather than pressure)," Ma said. "I hope I can take the responsibility to help the world know more about China and China's motor sports."
(China Daily 04/13/2013 page16)