Image: Ray Ally
This weekend the Formula One (F1) circus comes to China with the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai. Hosting global events is one of the many ways cities in China seek to enhance their brand image at home and overseas.
Sporting occasions are particularly attractive, but not every city can host an Olympic games (Beijing 2008) or an Asian Games (Guangzhou 2010) as they are expensive to organise and run. Often requiring large investments in infrastructure, transport and the building of new stadiums.
Shanghai’s International Circuit was purpose built for F1, at a cost of US$450 million and opened in 2004. It is one of the newest and the largest, fitting perfectly with Shanghai’s image as the most cosmopolitan and international city in China. Beijing is the capital, but its understated, government and cultural position doesn’t fit with noise of F1 and brashness of the sport. Unlike Shanghai, which is seen as a big, bold, flashy and fast city.
One of the interesting elements of F1′s Chinese Grand Prix is the shape of the track. It was designed to reflect the Chinese character 上 “shang” from the city’s name Shanghai 上海, (which translates to above the sea). It’s a clever way to add a Chinese element, which makes it more unique and gives local relevance to the global event.
Despite China being the biggest car market in the world, interest in Formula One is not that high. Attendance at the Chinese Grand Prix has been falling since its inaugural event in 2004. The biggest problem is the high price of tickets, which can cost a months salary for the average Chinese worker.
Shanghai has just signed up to host the event for another eight years until 2020. So I expect the organisers will be looking at ways to address these issues and get more local people to the event. But for now, Shanghai has the fastest brand image of any city in China and I don’t see that changing any time soon.