The Red Army marched again on Shanghai last night, but this was Michael Schumacher's brigade, not Chairman Mao Tse-tung's. In blood-red Ferrari shirts and caps, waving their team flags, over 100,000 Chinese motor racing fans returned to the city from its spectacular suburban circuit, satisfied with another Ferrari victory but disappointed it fell to Rubens Barrichello and not the world champion.
"Red is a lucky colour for Chinese, and Ferrari is also the best team, so that's why we support them," explained Wang Shipeng from Beijing, who like most Chinese spectators only knew Formula One from television until yesterday's inaugural Grand Prix. "It was so exciting to see it in person, and definitely worth the 1,000 yuan [£70] ticket price."
The rising incomes of China's swelling middle classes made the country the obvious new addition to the Formula One corporate agenda. Yu Zhifei, the Chinese organiser, has promised to turn the Shanghai leg into the biggest cash machine in Chinese sports. Given the spirit of free enterprise dominating this communist country, it was no surprise to find everyone cashing in on the largest sporting event China has ever held.
On arrival at the track yesterday morning, fans were met by local farmers hawking binoculars. "Buy a pair, only 50 yuan [£4]!" urged a woman in a large straw hat. She guessed her weekend break from the fields would realise £70, several months' income to the average peasant.
While peasants aplenty had watched the magnificent circuitrise from the marshlands of Anting, there were gasps from city slickers glimpsing it for the first time. Sitting on concrete piles and a sea of polystyrene that keeps it from sinking into the bog, the track is another triumph in a resurgent era for the Chinese people.
Schumacher is called the "Prince of Cars" or "Car God" by the Chinese media, but a local hero would soon displace him. "If there was a Chinese F1 driver, I'd definitely support his team," admitted a Ferrari fan from Nantong, two hours' drive away, as the 2pm race time approached. The stands and grass embankments were packed with 160,000 people, including over 50,000 foreign visitors. In the carnival atmosphere, Chinese spectators waved at the TV helicopters overhead, and tucked into noodles and Foster's beer.
"Big Schumacher", as he also called, to differentiate him from brother Ralf, or "Little Schumacher", earned a huge roar on overtaking Jenson Button, even though it was just the parade lap. once the action was under way, the crowds applauded his surge up 10 places, from the very back of the field, then grew quieter as the German's nightmare weekend continued.
A car missing a wheel aroused the biggest buzz in the later half of the race, for China would appreciate a little more incident: crowds quickly gather at any accident site in this country. But the generally smooth passage of the Formula One experience completes another stretch of the country's modernisation. "I have been watching F1 for six years on TV," said a Shanghai student. "Today I felt so proud that it has come to my city and my country."Reuse content