|http://www.sina.com.cn 2004/01/16 19:52 中国周刊|
◆By Mark Godfrey
With cash running out and cigarette ads being wiped off European sports fixtures by EU legal eagles, Formula One is quitting its European birthplace and moving to China. Mark Godfrey has been to Germany Hockenheim, home to modern motor racing and looks to what China can expect when the engines rev up here.
A Formula One race overflows with thrills and sensations. There's the deafening noise, the flashing colour, fearsome speed and awesome competitiveness of the drivers. There are the celebrities, the model girlfriends, the pretty cheerleaders, the VIP tents. And then there are the thousands of ordinary fans for whom Formula One motor racing has become more of a creed than a sport. In this unforgettable spectacle exuberant fans celebrate the glory of victory and taste the bitterness of defeat, watching drivers battle at death-defying speed for poll position. It誷all part of the incredible road-show of fans, freaks and ferocious competitiveness that is the Formula One World Championship circuit, snaking its glamorous way across the world every year.
The Formula One world championship is an annual worldwide series of circuit races, each race being around 300 kilometres in length and slightly less than two hours in duration. The cars, custom-built by each team, have huge wings designed to push them down to allow for incredibly fast corner-taking. With three litre engines most cars boast an incredible 800 horsepower. Since 1984, the championship has been dominated by just three teams, McLaren, Williams, and Ferrari, who have provided the cars for all but two of the World Champions during the period.
One of the most famous courses on the global Formula One circuit is the Hockenheim track in Germany. For many fans it's the home of modern Formula One racing. The Schumann family never miss a race there. A flag flies from the roof of their caravan, the red, black and gold colours of Ferrari flapping in the breeze. Official Michael Schumacher Fan?scream the large letters stuck to the side of the caravan. A signed sticker of Schumacher adorns each window while posters of a smiling Schumacher are hung everywhere inside the caravan.
Michael Schumacher is the world number one driver, then I the biggest Michael Schumacher fan of all times!?says the portly Jens Schumann. The Schumanns pitched their tent ten days before the race even started. They want the best spot and are taking their holidays by the race-track. We were the first here?says Jens?wife Susi, proudly showing off a red badge numbered 5, 129. That's her membership number in the Official Michael Schumacher Fan Club.
Jens and Susi describe how they bought a motor-home just so they can drive to Formula One races around Europe. In 2003 they drove to Hungary, Barcelona, Hockenheim and Belgium. They also twice made the journey to sunny Monaco to watch their hero Michael Schumacher pass the finishing flag.
chumania?hits hard in the world champion homeland. The Wandelhalle family in the tent next to the Schumanns are singing the Official Schumacher Anthem.?The fans refer to him only as Michael Michael says Dieter Wandelhalle, Is a fine guy.?Wandelhalle stokes a barbecue as he talks. He has perfected a special type of Frankfurter sausage he calls a strong and spicy, a real racing sausage?he smiles.
Many thousands of miles away, Wandelhalle beloved Formula One is getting used to the spicier taste of Chinese hotpot. Formula One is coming to China, and bosses from the world most glamorous sport are scouting for Chinese driving talent and sponsors among the local business community. Ferrari chief Luca de Montezemolo wasn kidding when he said ormula One needs China.?And the Chinese are happy to welcome the world most glamorous sport to the world biggest population. Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone has snubbed Canada and other nations because of tightening anti-smoking laws, flying instead to cigarette-friendly China to sign multi-million dollar deals to move Formula 1 racing to Asian climes.
China has less problems with cigarette sponsorship of sports than far more restrictive western Europe, where European Union laws have gradually shut sports events off from cigarette companies, whose sponsorship is a major source of income for Formula One racing. One of the biggest cigarette makers in the country, Septwolves, was a major sponsor of soccer club Real Madrid recent visit to Beijing. Over three hundred million smokers help to make China the world biggest market for cigarette makers. The Chinese smoke an incredible 1.7 trillion cigarettes a year. Cigarette stalls dot every street and laneway in local towns and cities. Dozens of local and international brands fight it out for a share of the market but Marlboro and Camel, both sponsors of Formula One teams, lead the field.
Builders worked feverish 24-hour shifts in the summer of 2003 to get the tar down on a new track in Shanghai in time for Formula One debut in China next year. China is also working hard to build its own team of drivers, spending millions of yuan training and technology to get to leap-frog to the front of the global Formula 1 rankings. Eddie Jordan, chief of the Jordan Formula One team, visited the Shanghai track recently and received a hero welcome. The Chinese relied heavily on the Irishman for advice and guidance in their quest to build a world-class motor racing facility.
Welcoming Jordan on a whiz-tour around the track, Vice-President of Shanghai International Circuit Yu Zhifei said the racing chief had been nstrumental?in bringing Formula One to China and had helped the Chinese great deal?to make their track a model Formula One facility. Wined and dined by politicians and sports officials during his visit, Jordan was full of praise and hope for Formula One future in China. The Shanghai International track would, said Jordan, ?..set new standards for Formula One.?
Motor racing fans are likely to become very familiar with the name Yu Zhifei. In charge of promoting the Shanghai International Circuit, Zhifei is promising Formula One a cosy home and bright future in this shiny coastal metropolis. Extremely proud and excited. This is a significant event for the people of China?says Zhifei. Interest in Formula One is increasing dramatically in China. Shanghai glitzy new track is shaped like a massive and will hold a whopping 200,000 spectators. Costing $ 240 million to build, the 5.45 km venue was laid out by celebrated German designer Hermann Thilke, the man also behind the acclaimed new Malaysian motor racing track.
Other Asian nations queuing to join the circuit are India, Dubai, Turkey and Egypt. Bahrain is being added to the circuit along with China. Happily for the cigarette making sponsors all are nations with huge numbers of smokers and lax laws on tobacco advertising.
Philip Morris, the global cigarette giant which manufactures Marlboro, spends an incredible 65 million euros a year on its sponsorship of Formula One race leader, Ferrari. Other teams, such as McLaren, BAR, Jordan and Renault, also rely on cigarette makers?money for sponsorship. The company, the world biggest cigarette producer, meanwhile spends a whopping 3 billion US dollars on ads every year.
To recruit more smokers through the glamour of Formula One, cigarette sponsors are shifting their advertising focus to Asia. here will be more and more fixtures out of Europe?said a spokesman for F1. his will allow the sponsoring companies to transmit their branding back into the EU via the Formula One TV coverage.?Of the eight races currently held in Europe two are set to go to Asia in 2004. They are likely to be the Austria and San Marino fixtures. Health experts in both China and Europe have slammed the actions of the cigarette giants in pushing their sponsorship and advertising focus to Asia. China faces a massive public health crisis with millions of locals dying each year of cancer and other smoking-related illnesses. But with over ten percent of the government’s annual tax take coming from cigarette sales, officials are caught between a rock and a hard place.
Incredibly, more than half of China’s male doctors smoke, while many locals spend 60 % of their income feeding their nicotine crave. The Chinese government takes in over 5 billion US dollars a year in tobacco taxes but almost 8 billion dollars is lost here every year to lung cancer care and work days lost to illness caused by smoking.
According to a recent survey by the World Health Association, many Chinese children - invariably boys - start smoking at 13 and smoke a whopping 30 cigarettes a day, on average, by the time they are hooked. Cigarette smoking is accepted in China and local health officials may be panicking at the thought of Michael Schumacher coming to China to encourage sports-mad Chinese kids to support his sponsor, Marlboro, by lighting up.
People have got to learn to stop smoking!?stresses Li Xinjian, a doctor at Shanghai Disease Prevention & Control Centre. Dancer patients in Shanghai are getting younger and younger, with many dying in the 20s and 30s.?Almost seventy percent of Chinese men smoke and smoking will kill a third of all young Chinese men in their 30s, Li estimates.
Chinese health officials have begun to rein in the all-pervasive presence of cigarette advertisers. In a move which will surely scare the cigarette giant ambitions for China, Pepsi has taken over from Marlboro as sponsor of China national soccer league following pressure from health officials and anti-tobacco campaigners. And the race could be run by 2006 if Formula One directing body follows up on its plans to ban tobacco advertising in all international Formula 1 fixtures by 2006. The race is now on to cash in on the Formula 1 phenomenon and grabs the biggest share of the cigarette market in this massive land before the shutters come down.
Back at Hockenheim meanwhile, the party continues, for now. Business manager Volker Boldt spends many of his weekends at the track with some friends. always go to a Grand Prix for the whole weekend. I get off work early on a Friday to watch the two practice sessions. You see the teams getting to know the track and adjusting the car to cope with the conditions. Then on Saturday there another two practice sessions and afterwards the qualifying session. That a night to head out on the town and see what the beer and the women are like in whatever town we in.?
On Sunday there the final warm up session and the race. Afterwards we always have a barbecue and some drinks back at the camping site. Sometimes we drive back home through the night. Otherwise we take Monday off and have a big party?he chuckles. True to form down on the track, Michael Schumacher obliges Volker and his other fans with a single brilliant lap to secure poll position.
Everybody knows when the Formula One show hits town. And everyone wants to be at the party. From Brazil to Belgium, Malaysia to Monaco, streets are filled with merchandising stalls. Flags and banners billow from the windows of supporters?cars. The drivers may come and go, but the fervour of racing fans remains a constant.
There are thousands of Michael Schumacher fan clubs around Europe. Fans are devoted to the sport because Formula One showcases the world fastest drivers in the most advanced and expensive racing cars in the world. The sport mixes glamour, technology and passion in an unparalleled cocktail of high-octane adrenaline. Formula One is a big-money sport however and the high speeds on the track are matched only by the high earnings of the teams and the bosses of Formula One. Michael Schumacher is after all the world highest paid sportsman. Formula One drivers set out to achieve their dream soon after they learn to walk. They sharpen their reflexes, hone their muscles and practice their race-craft in karting and the lower rankings like Formula Three before they battle it out on the premium tracks.
The wheel-to-wheel excitement of the racing draws the crowds but Formula One is a business steered by businessmen driven by expansion and profit. Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone, Renault F1 chief Flavio Briatore, McLaren boss Ron Dennis and Irish racing king Eddie Jordan are flamboyant players drawn to the audacious challenge of Formula One and its potential rewards. The glamour of the job is embraced in a board-room where long-legged blonde girlfriends are de rigeur, pint-sized Bernie Ecclestone being dwarfed by his young trophy wife.
Chinese motor racing fans are expected to surge in number when Shanghai Formula One track opens in 2004. The loyalty of its fans and the merchandising power of Formula One have set it apart as a sport of global appeal, though it unlikely to compete with football as a sport of true mass international appeal. Some people say formula one racing is boring when compared to car racing categories like rally driving?says Irish Formula One expert Jeffrey McCarthy. But this is the pinnacle of racing in terms of budgets and driver skill. The differences in driver ability are usually dwarfed when compared to the relative speed of the different makes of cars. Overtaking is restricted because the aerodynamics of cars behind the leader are held back by the car in front, so overtaking is very risky and rare. It’s tough out there.?