F1 Business Diary 2015: the Chinese Grand Prix

Mercedes were back on top in Shanghai, with world champion Lewis Hamilton taking his second win in three races at a Chinese Grand Prix attended by 145,000 people.

Kudos to Edwin Moses, the latest in a long line of celebrities ill-advisedly ushered onto the podium to try and elicit some sense from the top three, for slipping a reference to the Laureus World Sports Awards into his chat with messrs. Hamilton, Rosberg and Vettel, in front of the world's TV cameras, on Sunday.

The ceremony takes place in Shanghai on Wednesday and Moses, twice an Olympic champion and now a Laureus ambassador, was on hand in the Formula One paddock over the weekend to spread the message and announce a new tie-up with Nico Rosberg. Rosberg will spearhead Laureus' #DriveForGood campaign this year, with his Mercedes team pledging to donate €100 for every racing kilometre the German leads in 2015 to the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, which helps to address social problems affecting youngsters around the world. “I probably shouldn't say this, but hopefully I will cost the company a lot of money in donations this year,” joked Rosberg as the project was announced. He was rather less jovial on the podium a couple of days later, after finishing an unhappy second, telling Moses: “Well, you wouldn't know how it feels to finish second; you never did!”

Marathon not a sprint

It's a more complex and nuanced dispute than it might first appear, but the bald fact that second-placed Rosberg complained after Sunday's race than the leader, Hamilton, was driving too slowly – too slowly, in a motor race – provided yet more fuel for those who believe Formula One has totally lost the plot. It was hard not to note the stark contrast between events in Shanghai and those thousands of miles away at Silverstone, where the 2015 World Endurance Championship thundered into life with a compelling battle between world champions Toyota, Porsche and perennial Le Mans winners Audi. Some 45,000 people were in attendance to see a thrilling duel play out over six hours, with Audi eventually taking the honours. Endurance racing might be the antithesis of the packaged-up and compacted sports events considered mainstream broadcast-friendly, but the WEC, with its growing band of manufacturers and fan-friendly open paddock, is thriving nonetheless. And the cars are quick. When Mark Webber left Formula One at the end of 2013 to join Porsche's new WEC challenge, it was widely reported as a 'retirement'; on Sunday, Audi driver Benoit Treluyer's fastest lap would have put him tenth on the grid at last year's British Grand Prix – that despite the fact WEC prototypes are around twice as heavy as Formula One cars. Perhaps Force India driver Nico Hulkenberg's decision to compete in two races for Porsche this year, starting at Spa in two weeks time, may turn a few more Formula One heads in the direction of a well-promoted series clearly on the up.

China crisis

The 11th Grand Prix to take place in Shanghai was attended by an impressive crowd of 145,000 over the weekend, although as ever at the vast Shanghai International Circuit there were still several grandstands covered in tarpaulin and left unused. Shanghai will host a Grand Prix for at least the next two years, with a decision on any extension likely to be preceded by a careful evaluation of Formula One's benefits by the local government. With that in mind, comments from Yang Yibin, the marketing manager of Juss Event, the local company which promotes the Grand Prix on the government's behalf, to the Shanghai Daily newspaper are worth noting. Yang suggests that the draw of Formula One is not what it once was, telling the newspaper: “There are various reasons, like one team dominating several seasons; smaller teams finding it hard to challenge the bigger constructors; etc. The races are not as brilliant as they were a decade ago.” Yang added: “Changes have to be made to the sport. UBS was the title sponsor of last year's Chinese Grand Prix, but they didn't extend the contract this year, and there must be a reason for it. Maybe we can expect something new when we go into the post-Bernie [Ecclestone] era.”

Bahrain budgeting

The Formula One community is currently traipsing from Shanghai to Bahrain for the next Grand Prix, this coming Sunday, but when it arrives it may find life rather less lavish than last year's money-no-object tenth anniversary extravaganza. According to local reports, the budget for this year's event has been reduced by a not insignificant 27 per cent. The Gulf Daily News quoted Bahrain International Circuit chief executive Sheikh Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa as saying “there was more to do” in 2014, the first year in which the race was held under floodlights. Austerity measures even at a government-funded national brand-builder of a race in the Gulf – whatever next?


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