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02 Apr 2004 00:00
Workers on a huge construction site outside Shanghai are helping to build a stunning new venue for a formula one world championship race.
The venue, for the inaugural Chinese Grand Prix on September 28, will be the latest new staging post in a journey that is destined to lead formula one from its traditional European heartlands to different territory.
Before that, this Sunday the Bahrain Grand Prix will take the championship to the Middle East for the first time in its 54-year history.
The new circuits in China and Bahrain have been designed by Hermann Tilke, who also built Malaysia’s new circuit in Sepang, as the sport penetrates what is widely regarded as the biggest remaining untapped market in the commercial world. The new face of formula one is about money — lots of it.
The organisers from Bahrain and Shanghai have benefited from government support to invest at least £100-million apiece on their lavish new tracks in an attempt to gain membership of Bernie Ecclestone’s exclusive formula one club.
These spectacular architectural symphonies of concrete and steel are not only responsible for swelling the championship to an unprecedented 18 races, but have also put many European race promoters on notice that, unless they match the standards of these two dramatic new circuits, they face the prospect of being dropped from the schedule.
The new races open up significant markets for the sponsors who back the teams. McLaren, for instance, have already played host to Chinese trade delegations at their headquarters in Woking and currently have one of their formula one show cars touring China.
‘We have also been working with various media networks in China, providing introductions to formula one and the McLaren name,” said Ekrem Sami, the team’s marketing managing director.
Tilke has been working on the Bahrain and Shanghai projects simultaneously, which has added to the pressure.
‘Of course these circuits are developments of the Malaysian one,” he said. ‘With every circuit you design and build, you gain more experience and have further ideas.”
He added: ‘You can’t always use the best land. In Shanghai we had swampy ground, so the whole track is standing on support piles some 40m to 80m deep.”
There are 40 000 of them and Tilke has used polystyrene over the piles in the building of the track to make it less heavy.
In Bahrain the challenge was very different. More than 60 000 tons of Welsh granite have been imported to build the circuit, which has been constructed on the site of a former camel farm and oasis at Sakhir.
Several thousand palm trees have been planted, reportedly at a cost of about £1 500 each.
The biggest potential problem, however, remains the sand.
‘We live with the ever-present risk of a sand storm,” said spokesperson Martin Whitaker. ‘So to reduce the risk of drivers sliding off the track we have come up with a special glue to lay on the sand surrounding the track.
‘Then there is a layer of special film over that as a secondary barrier. Obviously we can’t glue the whole desert, so it’s as much as we can do, other than hope it will be all right on the day.” —
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