Ma Qing Hua is a reserve driver for the backmarker Caterham team. That won't build a Chinese fan base
The Chinese Grand Prix "was supposed to give Formula One a path to a vibrant new market," however, "it hasn't worked out that way," according to Michael Casey of the AP. The race, which takes place this weekend in Shanghai, "has struggled to fill the stands," and F1 found that "Chinese viewership fell steeply last year."
Sponsors "also have been slow to sign on to the sport with only a handful of Chinese companies currently endorsing any of the 11 teams."
McLaren Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh said, "I'm worried about China. The potential is huge, the importance is massive and we must make it successful there. But we haven't done enough to say, 'Hey we are here and come have a look.'"
The sport's growth "has been hurt by the fact China has one of the youngest fan base of any of country," with 10% of fans under 16 and a quarter under 25. As a result, the young fans "often don't have the nearly $500 for a three-day pass to the races" -- or for that matter money to spend on F1 merchandise. Whitmarsh and other team principals also said that "the sport has suffered from its failure to reach out and educate fans from the moment it arrived" in '04. The other challenge "is finding a Chinese Michael Schumacher or Fernando Alonso to help market the spot."
It worked with Li Na for tennis and Yao Ming for basketball, but so far no Chinese driver "has reached the F1 grid." That "could change with the addition of Ma Qing Hua as a reserve driver this year for Caterham." He will also race in the lesser GP2.
Ma said, "Once I'm on the grid, I think I will be a target that the people will want to chase." Three-time F1 champion Jackie Stewart said of China, "To begin with, they are not going to be interested in motor sport ... Motor sport whether it be Germany, Italy, Britain or France has lived with it since they removed the red flag from the horseless carriage. That hasn't been bred into the new generation of nations so we need to help them with that." AP
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