This wasn’t how the Shanghai International Circuit was supposed to look on Sunday, April 19. Our plans to go to the 2015 Chinese Grand Prix were ruined by a late change to the F1 calendar, meaning we arrived in Shanghai a week late. Undeterred, we still visited the deserted circuit and took a tour.
It’s tempting to start planning your trip to a race after the provisional Formula 1 calendar is published in September. It rarely changes before being ratified in December, but this year was an exception. China switched places with Bahrain and the date was moved forward one week. Our trip was already booked when this change was announced and it just wasn’t possible to move the dates.
So we went to Shanghai as tourists and instead of spending three days at the race, we visited the circuit one morning for a guided tour. We stayed downtown at the Green Court Serviced Apartments, which was a good mid-range choice within walking distance of People’s Square and West Nanjing Road.
We headed to the track on Sunday morning. It was one of those overcast, smoggy days which seem to be the norm for large Chinese cities. We took the metro, which is cheap, efficient and easy to use. Shanghai International Circuit has it’s own stop on line 11 and it took just over an hour to get there from People’s Square.
After having done some research online, we knew it was possible to take a tour of the circuit. On arrival, we followed signs to the ‘tourist center’, which led us away from the circuit. This wasn’t a great idea. The young girl working there didn’t speak a word of English and couldn’t help so we headed back towards the circuit. It didn’t take long to find the souvenir shop, which is located at the back of the main grandstand, next to a Costa Coffee. We knew this was where we could ask about the tour. Luckily for us, a tour was about to start and tickets cost a reasonable 50 RMB ($8 USD). We were joined by a couple from Australia who had also got the dates wrong.
In what was emerging as a pattern at Shanghai International Circuit, our tour guide didn’t speak a word of English, but seemed friendly enough. He got over the language barrier by making strategic stops at signs which told us more about the circuit. One such sign gave us some interesting facts about the ‘world superstar’ circuit, which was built on swamp land in just 18 months at a cost of $450m USD and held its first race in 2004. We learned the spectator capacity of the entire circuit (200 000) and the main grandstand (29 000), number of square meters of asphalt laid to build the track (173 000) and number of tires bound together to form the 6.5km of tire walls (174 000).
There were several highlights on the 40-minute tour, including a look at the media room, a vast space occupying the top part of the southern wing which spans the pit straight. We had the opportunity to stand on the podium where one week earlier, Lewis Hamilton had sprayed champagne into the eyes of a pretty promo girl (read more here) and checked out the distinctive paddock area behind the pits, which house 26 team buildings dotted around a lake and was designed to resemble the Yuyan Garden in Shanghai.
It’s an impressive facility and well worth a look if you are in Shanghai. There is no circuit website in English with details of the tours, but you should be able to turn up to the circuit and take a tour any day of the week between the hours of 10am-5pm.