Formula 1

Assessing Formula 1's Chinese dream 10 years on

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This weekend marks the tenth anniversary of the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai, back in 2004 Formula 1 was looking to make a name for itself in the world's most populous nation but 10 years on has it achieved its aims?

Cracking major markets outside of Europe has always been a major problem for F1, only now is the sport realistically gaining a foothold in the United States with a race in Austin, Texas and a new US-led team entering from as early as next year.

In Asia too, the second most populous nation, India has seen F1 arrive and within three years leave again as organisational and tax issues have forced the race off the calendar.

That, however, is not to say the sport does not have a following in the country, through my own Twitter following there is a lot of potential for the Indian market to embrace F1 should problems be sorted.

In China, the sport has had a relatively smooth time with the race running without any major problems but despite this F1 has yet to really inspire the country of over a billion people.

Sure the first race back in 2004 attracted huge crowds when the sport was new and curiosity drew people to watch.

Today there are decent crowds over a race weekend reaching over 100,000 people during the three days, which is good when compared to some venues visited over the course of a year but given the potential in China the growth of the sport is really quite some way off where it could be.

Last year a change in the broadcasting policy from state-run channel CCTV to local providers saw the number of viewers drop from 30m in 2012 to just 19m in 2013, though that number is set to pick up again.

However even the 30m from 2012 is still behind the traditional yet much smaller markets of Italy (35m) and Germany (31m).

In a year when the global F1 audience dropped from 500m to 450m regular viewers, a drop largely blamed on Sebastian Vettel's dominance, the 11m lost viewers in China alone was one of the biggest seen as the traditionally difficult US market actually witnessed growth of over 18% compared to 2012.

The TV figures are certainly more reliable than the race weekend attendance numbers due to the enormity of China, indeed it is the same story in India where a large proportion of F1 fans are believed to live in the south of the country, and if that figure doesn't rebound in the near future questions will be asked as to whether the sport can survive there.

As with all major F1 markets, interest is boosted when there is a 'local' to cheer on, this explains Brazil's figure of 77m viewers and was also key in the Indian Grand Prix's early success.

Despite having an Indian-owned team in Force India, the country never really has the feeling of it being a 'local' team whereas when Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok were racing interest was higher.

China has had a driver knocking on the door in the past with Ma Qinghua a reserve for the now defunct HRT team back in 2012 as well as Caterham last year, however, without actually participating his impact was slight.

There is hope the F3 racer Sun Zheng could finally be the first Chinese driver to make it to the premier Motorsport category but without significant backing or a partnership with an F1 team that path is very tough.

Certainly based on past experience exploiting the potential of a new market doesn't happen over just a few years, yes some races have blossomed very quickly, notably in Singapore where the race has been embraced in just five years.

For China to succeed there has to be efforts made to make the sport more attractive to not just potential fans but also potential sponsors or, as Gene Haas' project proves, even a future team based there.

In assessing where F1 currently is it would get a B-, there is still hope for the Chinese dream to come true, but for that to happen much work still remains. 

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This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeSport Writing Academy and does not represent the views of GiveMeSport.com or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. GiveMeSport.com and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.

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