I was going through some old photos this morning. Yes. Real photos. Real actual printed photographs. How very retro.
Amongst some very random and slightly embarrassing windows into my youth, I found a lovely little selection taken 10 years ago, on my very first trip to Shanghai, for Formula 1 Magazine. And given that we’re flying off to China early next week, I thought I’d share them with you.
The Yu Garden, Shanghai was one of the earliest places we visited. We spent a long time in the area and I’m sad to say that I haven’t been back in many years. The problem is that Shanghai itself is so far from the track and so over the past 5 years I have stopped staying in the town as more and more of us have moved to Jiading. Back in 2003, however, Jiading barely even existed.
This is me and Cristiano da Matta, who was racing for Toyota at the time. He was to be our cover star for the magazine and we spent a lot of time together that week, caught up in traffic, getting lost en route to a track that didn’t exist, eating weird and wonderful food, buying fake watches, discussing Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles… and getting tremendously annoyed with a photographer and artistic director whose combined efforts were so poor, Bernie requested the cover be photoshopped. And so we ended up with one of the most mocked front covers of any motorsport magazine ever, in which poor Cris had his head superimposed onto a stock photo of someone on a rickshaw. This photo was taken shortly after Cris had bought a knock off Bolex, and then been most upset that I’d bartered a Mont Plonk pen and a Jag Heuer for the same price.
This is all that existed of the grandstands at the track. These are the two that enclose the braking zone at the end of the long back straight, which now have the famous discs adorning the top of them. As you can see, we are absolutely in the middle of nowhere. It took us almost half a day to find the track. Jiading itself was nothing. A dirt track with a few industrial units. Seeing how fast this district has developed over the past decade has been possibly the biggest lesson in what an F1 track can bring to an area, but also in just how fast the Chinese economy has grown in that time. This is how it looks now…
The start-finish straight. We talk almost every year about how bumby the China track is and about the boggy land on which it was built. Hopefully these photos will give you an idea of just how deep into the ground they had to dig to find something resembling solid earth. It was still awfully soft, and that is why the track’s bumpiness continues to evolve year on year.
Again… here’s how it looks now.
And these are the team buildings… the one thing that sticks in my mind the most about this photo was the large piles of human faeces all over the place. There were no portloos, you see, so the poor workers just had to go wherever they could. It was a wasteland. In numerous ways.
Jiading itself is an undiscovered gem. A historic little place with beautiful old architecture and a Confuscious temple. But 10 years ago it was not the bustling, ever expanding city it is becoming today. It was a small industrial town. Finding these old photos again has given me much to reflect upon. I’d forgotten just what a desolate location the track was placed in. When I say there was nothing there, I mean there was nothing there… just an endless expanse of flat nothingness. I remember falling asleep in the car and waking up an hour later and still being no further towards finding the location of the track. Nobody had a clue that a track was even being built, or what for. Now it is a source of great pride.
Perhaps it is important to remember that when we see the grandstands fail to fill, grands prix in the modern era aren’t just about putting bums on seats. In the case of China, its been about breathing new life into an area and giving investors a reason to put their money into it.
The small desolate town of Jiading I saw in 2003 and the bustling metropolis I’m flying to in 2013, are proof that it works.