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Shanghai welcomes return of Formula 1

By SHI FUTIAN | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2024-04-20 07:35
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Zhou Guanyu, China's first F1 driver, takes part in sprint qualifying at the Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix which kicked off in Shanghai on Friday. WEI XIAOHAO/CHINA DAILY

With the world's fastest formula racing cars, star drivers and tens of thousands of racing enthusiasts all gathering at the Shanghai International Circuit over the weekend, the Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix returns in style after a five-year wait since 2019.

The race weekend in Shanghai started on Friday, when the first practice and sprint qualifying were staged. Although the sprint race and the final race will be held on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, the Shanghai International Circuit was already crowded with fans and media representatives. And many of them are there for Zhou Guanyu, China's first F1 driver, who will compete at home for the first time.

"Shanghai is my home and the circuit was the start of my dream. As a Shanghai native, competing at home as an F1 driver means very much to me. It has a more special meaning for me than competing in any another Grand Prix in foreign countries. I just hope I can show my best performance and meet all the expectations of the fans," said Zhou, who now drives for Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber along with teammate Valtteri Bottas from Finland.

Zhou is finally making his debut at the Shanghai International Circuit as an F1 driver, because he only started his F1 career in 2022. The Chinese GP has not been on the F1 calendar since 2019, when F1 staged its 1,000th GP in China.

"It's amazing of course to have the opportunity finally to race at home. I've been missing that over the last two seasons when I started my career in Formula 1," Zhou said ahead of the first practice.

"It's great to be back, great to see all the track facilities where I used to be on the other side of the circuit here, in the grandstands watching, being a fan of F1 and then coming back here as an F1 driver.

"I can't wait, and of course there will be a lot of mixed emotions going through the weekend. I want to treat it as much as a normal race weekend, but I'm sure that there will be plenty of supporters coming throughout the weekend."

This year's edition also marks the 20th anniversary of the Chinese Grand Prix, since the event's debut in China in 2004, when Zhou cheered in the stands as a young boy for his idol F1 world champion Fernando Alonso.

"It was the first time that I saw Alonso's car in front of me with my own eyes. I was 6 and I saw Alonso win the Chinese GP that year. My mother and I put his posters all over my bedroom. I remember when I still competed in go-karting, my helmet was just like the one that he wore. And when I was a test driver, I tested his car. There were so many mixed feelings, and everything was just unimaginable," said Zhou.

All tickets for this year's Chinese GP were sold out in a few minutes when they opened for booking in January.

Since the debut of the F1 Chinese GP in Shanghai, the event has proved to be a great hit. During the three-day event 20 years ago in 2004, more than 260,000 visitors came to the Shanghai International Circuit, while more than 150,000 people were at the circuit on the final racing day. And five years ago in 2019, a total of about 160,000 people came to see the Chinese GP over three days.

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