The saying goes that a year is a long time in politics and the past twelve months have demonstrated the saying also holds good in Formula 1. In 2005, the Shanghai rendezvous marked the end of a tough season in which Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro failed to hang on to the titles it had monopolized in recent years. Testing carried out in the run up to that year's two events in the Far East was already focusing on the clean sheet of paper that was 2006 and in commercial terms, China was a very new market for the Prancing Horse road cars.
Roll the clock forward to this weekend's event and a very different picture emerges. The Shanghai event will not be the finale, but instead marks the start of the final trio of grands prix and Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro is very much in the hunt for both the Drivers' (with Michael Schumacher) and Constructors' titles. Therefore, last week's testing, had a sharp focus with new mechanical and aerodynamic components and Bridgestone tyres all being evaluated for use in these important races.
And as for the sale of the gran turismo cars, one month after last year's Chinese GP, Ferrari announced the creation of its Asia-Pacific Division to cover twelve markets in that part of the world and that is due to be fully operational in the next month. Current sales figures for this region are around the 800 car mark, representing approximately 13% of the company's global sales.
Shanghai will be hosting the third Chinese Grand Prix, showing that the world of Formula 1 was quick to realise the potential of the Chinese market, along with its enthusiasm for top level motor sport. Ferrari President and CEO, Luca di Montezemolo was only recently here in Shanghai when the media and important customers were given a sneak preview of the new 599 car, "This market is a key one for us and we tackle this crucial area, knowing that this year, 2006, we have to date sold 120 cars in China, which is around double of what we sold last year," revealed the President.
Montezemolo also highlighted an interesting fact about Ferrari customers in this part of the world, in that the Chinese are the youngest buyers with an average age of 36, as opposed to the more normal 48. They are young and enthusiastic, which is why the Chinese sales network now features thirteen outlets.
This enthusiasm for the Prancing Horse naturally includes its on-track activities and the forthcoming Grand Prix is eagerly awaited by the local race fans. "The Chinese Grand Prix has given us the opportunity to understand just how close the Ferrari fans are to us," comments Matteo Bonciani, Ferrari's Communications Director for Asia-Pacific.
"Their enthusiasm is easier to understand when you learn that the Scuderia Ferrari Club Shanghai, is the biggest in the entire world, boasting no less than two thousand members. The enthusiasm is growing and we expect many more Scuderia Ferrari Clubs to pop up in other Chinese cities soon. As the Chinese Grand Prix approaches, fans are calling us at our new offices all the time and we literally seem to have a "hotline" with the greatest support reserved for Michael Schumacher."
"The Chinese fans are no different to tifosi the world over in that they like to wear their "colours" hence the huge popularity of the Ferrari merchandise Store in Xintiandi, with another due to open in Beijing shortly. There is a huge thirst for knowledge and information about Ferrari and Formula 1 and, with this in mind, Ferrari Managing Director Jean Todt's first official function in Shanghai will be to take part in a Thursday press conference at the new Ferrari showroom in downtown Shanghai where he will meet Chinese automotive and financial media.
So can Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro deliver the result that its thousands of Chinese fans are hoping for this Sunday? Certainly, if races were won thanks to hard work and effort alone, then both Michael Schumacher and Felipe Massa can expect a good weekend. The last two weeks have seen the Prancing Horse team carry out some intensive testing, at four locations - Fiorano, Mugello, Paul Ricard and Vairano - with four drivers - Michael, Felipe, Luca Badoer and Marc Gene. This quartet completed a total of 4709 kilometres and, showing there is no let up in his desire to win nor his determination to fight for the title, Michael Schumacher did almost half (2175 km) of the total distance covered.
On the technical front, the Scuderia will tackle the next two grands prix in the Far East, with a new aerodynamic package and a new front suspension. Furthermore, in the light of the fact that it is the engine specification that completes this forthcoming Chinese Grand Prix that must be delivered to the FIA for "freezing" in accordance with 2007 technical regulations, it has undergone two long-run tests; one at the Paul Ricard circuit and the other at Mugello.
In order to be accepted by the FIA, the engine in question must complete two grands prix weekends as per the current rules. Tyre partner Bridgestone has also been working hard, supporting the team at all these tests and part of the time has been spent evaluating wet weather tyres at Fiorano and Paul Ricard, to be ready for all eventualities.
Although the two championships will be the main focus of attention, Michael Schumacher will be keen to win here if for no other reason than the fact that a Chinese victory does not feature on his curriculum vitae. However, even without a Shanghai trophy in his collection, the Shanghai International Circuit has decided to honour the seven times world champion by naming a section of the circuit's grandstand after him. The ceremony and photocall take place at the circuit this Thursday.