Heading to car townWe took the metro almost all the way to the end of line 11, and as it sped out from its tunnel and into the grey but pleasant daylight we passed thousands and thousands of new cars parked outside of factories. We were entering car town, a part of Shanghai that is home to at least five different car factories. Once we reached the Shanghai Circuit metro stop and the massive UBS sponsored stadium that loomed overhead, we could feel the excitement in the air. The Shanghai International Circuit seats 200,000 people and cost $240 million to build. Once swampland, the area is now home to the 3.4 mile long track. We followed the thousands of fans into the stadium, passed through the lackadaisical security with a backpack full of beer and set out to find our seats. We knew our tickets were good, but we didn't realize how good until we arrived at our seats—section A-low, row 3, just ahead of the starting line, directly across from the pit area. We settled in, I thought about what to do if a car crashed and flew onto our seats, said a prayer requesting no one die that day, and cracked a Suntory and hoped for the best.
Track side seatsOur seats were so close to the track that when I threw my gum into the grass below it rolled inches from the pavement (this reminded me of when I got escorted out of Phillies stadium for lighting sparklers...whoops.). I soon forgot about my faux pas as the Mercedes test car closed its wing-like doors and made its way around the track at what looked like a snails pace. Then the fastest race cars in the world lined up. The drivers revved their engines, I put my ear plugs in (holy #$%^ they are loud!) and the cars zigzagged around the track for their test run (I'm pretty sure they were warming up their tires). After a few minutes, the shiny and sleek looking cars, low-slung with just a helmet bobbing out of the top, returned to their places at the finish line, and before I knew it they were off. You could feel the heart pumping vibrations in your chest, smell the burning fuel in the air and see the smoke from the tires. The die hard fans, some dressed in gear from head to toe, turned their heads in unison as each dangerously fast car raced by fighting for position. It took less than two minutes for the cars to complete a lap (Kamui Kobayashi of Japan had the fastest lap at 1:39.96). Sitting across from the pit was great, but we could only see the rest of the track on the jumbo screens. There were so many things to observe—between the pit crews, the noise, the jumbo screens and the audience I didn't know where to turn next.
The 2012 Chinese Grand PrixThe cars whizzed by, exceeding speeds of 370 kph (230 mph) and taking sharp turns at about 100 kph (62 mph). It was hard to tell them apart because they were moving so quickly. I could only distinguish the Red Bull car—the rest just blurred into pretty colors. Racers came in for pit stops, and in less than 10 seconds had all four tires changed and fuel refilled, ready to blast off again. It was fascinating to watch nearly 20 men on a pit crew work at top speed as one unit. Toward the end of the race one of the cars sped out of the pit and a crew member slammed his hand on the ground—clearly something didn't go right! Hopefully he screwed on all the lug nuts!
Why you should go to an F1 raceAll 56 laps of the race were exhilarating, each more than the last. Thankfully there were no major crashes, only a car that went into the grass and one that blew a tire (that I noticed anyway). The experience quickly became something I didn't want to end. I would highly recommend going to an F1 race to get your adrenaline pumping. Don't forget your earplugs, but if you do, there will people there to sell you some. First the sales woman started at RMB 20, then down to RMB 10 and finally RMB 5. The Chinese Grand Prix began in 2004 and has taken place annually ever since. This year Germany took the win with 26 year old Nico Rosberg behind the wheel. From the look of his car it seemed like he was in the lead most of the race. Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton of the UK took second and third. At the end I couldn't help but acknowledge that in addition to all the relieved hugs the racers got from friends, family and business partners, A LOT of money goes into this sport.
There's always next year, but if you would like to put the pedal to the metal, our friends at ShanghaiExpat have an article about Go karting at the F1 Stadium.