The 2012 Formula One season is getting into gear (excuse the pun) as the action moves to Shanghai. Shanghai seems a good fit for this glamorous sport: a high-octane, fast-moving and outward looking metropolis that’s now a global and increasingly sporting powerhouse.
Beijing may have had the Olympics, it may have the Forbidden City, the temples, Tiananmen Square, the Great Wall (albeit a short journey away) and the whole feeling of politics and power, but Shanghai has something very different.
Talking to the residents of the capital and I’ve found they tend to dismiss the Shanghainese as vain, shallow and obsessed with money. The feeling that comes in the other direction is that people in Beijing are often pompous, arrogant, strait-laced and unsophisticated.
The two cities are rivals in every field. When it comes to sport though, Shanghai is increasingly getting the upper hand. Not only do they have a prestigious tennis tournament, the ATP World Masters, they have motor racing and now one of the richest and most talked about clubs in the world of football.
In 2012 alone, the city is playing host to the Archery World Cup, various international ice-skating events and a whole lot more. But it’s the Grand Prix that really gets the city buzzing. With Formula One looking to expand its brand in China and Asia generally, it went without saying that Shanghai had to be a venue.
After just two races of the season, Spain’s Fernando Alonso sits in first place thanks to a win in Malaysia last time around, and fifth place in the opening race of the season in Australia.
Britain’s Jenson Button took the checkered flag in Melbourne, but now compatriot and fellow McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton is in second overall. Indeed, McLaren have a good record in Shanghai, and those two drivers have won, between them, three of the last four races at the International Circuit.
In 2011, Hamilton memorably overtook eventual champion Sebastian Vettel four laps from the end to win the race. But back in 2007, the Englishman slid off the track here to put a big dent in his world title hopes.
The long straights on the track and the difficulty in overtaking seem to give the McLaren the advantage, but we’ll have to wait and see as Red Bull look to kick start their season in the face of good starts from Ferrari and McLaren.
Anything can happen in Shanghai – both and on and off the track. And whatever happens, a very large nation will be watching.