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April 16, 2011

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Home » Feature » Events and TV

Shanghai's fanatical F1 followers

THE Chinese Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit provides one chance a year for local fans to watch their driving idols in action. Jia Feishang meets some of the F1-obsessed individuals who dedicate much time and money to follow the exciting motor sport.

There's no reason not to like F1. We just like it." That's the response many local fans give when enthusing about the motor sport which was only recently introduced to the country, with the first Chinese Grand Prix taking place in 2004.

In Shanghai there are plenty of F1 followers ranging from the crazed to the calm, with many women belonging to the former style of fans.

Cui Jingjing is one such female F1 fanatic, favoring Germany's Michael Schumacher and his compatriot Sebastian Vettel.

The local IT worker describes herself as a quiet person, but when she talks about F1, her female etiquette is eclipsed by passion and excitement.

"Though I've already passed the age of being a star-chaser, I still have full passion for the sport and those drivers," said 28-year-old Cui.

In 2006, Cui and her friends waited outside the hotel where Schumacher was staying for five days in order to have a chance to meet the seven-time world champion.

The waiting process was exhausting, but when Schumacher stepped downstairs on the morning of the fifth day, "I felt he was like an angel walking toward me," said Cui, who is proud that a photo she and her friend took with Schumacher's poster was used in his autobiography.

For this weekend's Chinese Grand Prix, Cui and her friends are fully prepared. They will cheer for the two drivers they support at the Shanghai International Circuit, dressing in the same outfits and waving home-made banners as they have done for the past six seasons.

Cui believes she is different from other fans. When she asks for a driver's autograph, she gets him to sign a photo she took with him earlier, letting the driver know that she comes to see him every year. She has collected almost every active driver's autograph.

And since watching only one race a year at the Shanghai Circuit is unsatisfying for the ardent fan, she has booked air tickets to Singapore to watch the race there in September.

Cui started traveling abroad to watch races last year. "When I woke one morning, I just thought I should go to watch the Singapore Grand Prix," she recalled of the spur-of-the-moment idea.

Similar to Cui's case, Lu Wenjun, a 24-year-old local teacher, has also been enthusiastic about F1 since about 10 years ago. "It excites me once I hear the sound of the race," the fan of Brazil's Rubens Barrichello said.

"It was like a fantasy when I saw Barrichello for the first time at the Shanghai Circuit," Lu said.

Hoping to have better chances of meeting the drivers, Lu became a volunteer race steward in 2009 and was responsible for recording the driver's race position on each lap.

The job was quite challenging even though she was familiar enough with every team and driver. "The speed was too fast for me to recognize who the driver was," Lu said in a worried tone. But she is still excited about picking up a piece of tire from that time.

According to Lu, F1 has already become an important part of her life and is always making new friends at various fan clubs' activities. "I'm happy that every year we make an appointment to watch the race," she said.

The young teacher said she plans to watch races in other Asian countries such as Japan, Malaysia and Singapore in the future. "I also hope more and more people pay attention to the sport in the future," she said, pointing out many watch F1 only because it's fashionable to do so.

Gao Feng, a sophomore at Shanghai University, is a representative of the calmer fans. Unlike the easily excited females, it's hard to tell from Gao's voice when he speaks about the sport that he is also a super fan.

The student started to follow the sport 10 years ago when local TV stations began to broadcast live races, and about 60 percent of his current leisure time is spent watching races, participating in club activities, working for a fans' magazine and probing into technical issues.

"I'm becoming an objective fan, no longer chasing after any team or driver," said Gao.

Gao will also go to the Shanghai Circuit to watch the race tomorrow to experience the atmosphere of actually being there and "see the things TV cameras are unable to catch."

He specially bought a professional camera which enables him to see the tire wear conditions clearly.

But the currently calm fan once astonished friends and became one of the TV cameras' favorites when he wore an extravagant pink wig while loudly cheering on Spain's Fernando Alonso.

For the automobile-related major student, his next aim is to go to Malaysia to watch the race once he graduates.

Another fan, 28-year-old Sun Yue, is too busy to spare as much time on F1, but still pays close attention to the sport and its development by following it on TV and the Internet.

"It's gratifying that F1 accompanied me through my school days," said Sun, who revealed that he still feels excited when seeing posters he has at home of F1's famous faces.

But Sun regards himself as a calm and objective F1 fan. "When I watch the races on TV, it's the drivers' skills and teams' strategies that attract me, and I'm becoming a mature fan," he said.

But the consulting firm employee also shared his concerns that the annual Chinese Grand Prix seems only to be popular in Shanghai, with other parts of the country showing less interest.

"We should promote the sport nationwide, maybe from next year," Sun added.

And in Sun's opinion, the annual Chinese Grand Prix currently seems to stir up the air at the Shanghai Circuit only, and he asks "why not turn it into a holiday across the city?"

Local fans are already waiting eagerly for the weekend's F1 feast and "one day it will become a grand party for the whole city," said Lu with full confidence in the sport's future in Shanghai.


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