The longest season in the fifty sixth year history of the Formula 1 World Championship comes to an end this weekend at the biggest purpose-built F1 racing facility in the world, the Shanghai International Circuit. When the Scuderia Ferrari ...
The longest season in the fifty sixth year history of the Formula 1 World Championship comes to an end this weekend at the biggest purpose-built F1 racing facility in the world, the Shanghai International Circuit.
When the Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro duo of Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello take to the track on Friday, it will not be the first time this year that the Prancing Horse has put on a show in China.
At the end of August, two F612 Scagliettis took part in the "Ferrari 15,000 Red Miles." Supported by Fiat China and the National Tourism Authority, this event saw the two cars complete a 15,000 mile trip around this huge country, with the cars driven by local and international journalists.
The two Scagliettis embarked on the trip which began and ended in Shanghai, on 29th August on a route which took in Manchuria, Tibet, Lhasa, the Gobi Desert and the Great Wall of China.
Ferrari has been represented in China since 1993, at first through an importer, today more directly with a joint-venture, the Ferrari Maserati Cars International Trading. Currently, Ferrari dealers can be found in seven Chinese cities and there are plans to increase this number significantly in the next few years, with a total of twelve dealers up and running by the end of this year.
From 1993 to 2004, 120 Ferrari cars have been sold, significantly 42 of those in 2004 alone, while the figure is set to go up to ninety for this year, with China likely to become Ferrari's fifth or sixth biggest market in terms of sales within the next two or three years.
Although China does not have much of a motor racing history, the sport is now proving extremely popular, with 145,000 spectators attending last year's inaugural Chinese Grand Prix and a bigger crowd is expected this time at the facility that has the capacity to seat 200,000. The 5.4 kilometre circuit is shaped like the Chinese symbol "Shang," and the main grandstands offer terrific views of much of the course.
The circuit was built from scratch in just eighteen months and the fact that the site was originally swamp land called for some interesting construction techniques, including sinking huge amounts of polystyrene as part of the foundations!
Everything about the facility is vast, from the huge glass pods that span the track at either end of the main straight, housing Race Control, the Media Centre and a VIP viewing area, to the team offices in the paddock, which sit on stilts over a small lake.
The track layout itself was an instant hit with the F1 drivers, who relished the challenge of a circuit that offered plenty of fast sections, some overtaking opportunities and very challenging corners, including a banked section.
It has fourteen corners, seven left and seven right and Turn 1 is particularly challenging as it has more than one apex, while the longest straight is located between the final two turns, is over a kilometre in length, allowing the cars to hit speeds in excess of 330 km/h.
Rubens Barrichello had the honour of being the first driver to have his name engraved on a Chinese Grand Prix winner's trophy last year and the Brazilian recently described standing on the massive podium next to Ferrari President, Luca di Montezemolo, as one of the highlights of his racing career.
On current form, a podium finish for either the Brazilian or his team-mate, would require an element of luck at the end of what has been a very tough season for the Scuderia. After Japan, the team has at least made sure it has secured third place in the Constructors' Championship, a title that will pass to another team this weekend, for the first time since 1998.
Theoretically, Michael Schumacher can still finish third in the Drivers' classification, but as Ferrari Managing Director Jean Todt pointed out in Japan last week, "for a seven times world champion, finishing third is not something of any importance." Therefore the man in red for whom the Chinese Grand Prix possibly has the greatest significance is last year's Shanghai winner, Rubens Barrichello.
It will be the 33 year old Brazilian's 103rd and final appearance at the wheel of a Ferrari, since he joined the team at the start of the 2000 season. All of his nine grand prix wins have been achieved with the Scuderia and in addition he has started from pole eleven times, finishing on the podium on no less than 55 occasions.