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Avid spectators embrace Formula 1
By Alfred Romann (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-10-15 06:52

SHANGHAI: Outside the upmarket Shanghai Centre, people came this week to have their pictures taken with a car.

But this is no ordinary car. It's not even an ordinary Mercedes. Avid crowds came to see a fully decked-out black Mercedes-McLaren speed machine like the one Formula 1 driver Kimi Raikkonen will drive during the Shanghai Grand Prix race, which starts at 2 pm on Sunday at the Shanghai International Circuit (SIC).

The opportunity to pose with the car or cardboard cut-outs of the team's more popular drivers and play driving simulation games, is all part of the growing profile of Formula 1 in Shanghai, a profile organizers hope will spread to the rest of China.

Motor sports and sports marketing are relatively new here; the first Formula 1 race in China was held last year in Shanghai. But in the next decade, both Formula 1 and SIC officials expect the sport to give Chinese corporations a venue to fulfil aspirations of a global presence.

"Formula 1 sponsors have a very good experience with past businesses developing globally," said Leo Liu, SIC deputy director of functions.

The first race attracted about 150,000 people throughout the weekend, but ticket prices were high. This year, about 100,000 people have bought tickets, Liu said. The sport is still young, and ticket prices remain relatively high.

Still, the numbers may be somewhat misleading.

A number of racing events held throughout the year the V8 Supercars race, the Moto GP, a Jackie Chan charity race and China Circuit Championship events all attracted fans. All told, said Liu, more than 250,000 people will have visited the SIC this year.

Sunday's Grand Prix, however, is the main event.

"Formula 1 is like a flag, a big flag, and we have to organize a lot of events so people understand what car racing is," Liu said.

On Friday, Formula 1 and SIC officials held a business conference aimed at attracting potential sponsors. The conference was a first in Formula 1 history.

It was organized in less than four months, said Michael Payne, special advisor to Formula 1 Chief Executive Officer Bernie Ecclestone and the man in charge of developing the marketing and sponsorship side of the sport.

Some of China's larger companies are starting to pay attention. More than 300 delegates are expected at the one-day event in Pudong, Liu said.

(China Daily 10/15/2005 page1)

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