My usual reaction to a racing series adding a round in China? "Ugh." Be it Formula 1, the DTM, A1GP, etc, I never ceased to be underwhelmed by it. A bit like in the mid-'90s, when Britpop ruled the airwaves and all you'd hear about is bands "trying to crack America". To paraphrase Barry Davies: "Frankly, who cares?"
But for Superleague Formula, the football club-based single-seater series, China most certainly is the right place to race. I've got a few friends who work in football, and they tell me that the Far East is their golden goose that keeps on laying. Why do you think you saw so many adverts flashing up in Chinese on advertising hoardings during the World Cup? There is massive fanbase for football developing there, with an economy third-only to America and Japan. Crucially, it is also the fastest-growing, and new money is hard to find thesedays.
The reason the football clubs lend their brand to Superleague is to get exposure. Asia is their number one area for expansion, in terms of replica shirt sales, toilet-roll holders etc, so two races in China makes perfect sense to me. In fact, if I had my finger on the calendar, I'd be racing all over Asia, in the Middle East and South America too.
In the latter case, I'd seek to replicate the success of IndyCar Series in Sao Paulo - take the racing to the people. In somewhere like Dubai, for instance, English Premier League games are shown religiously in bars, so why not have a round at the nearby Autodrome to coincide with a big 'Soccer Saturday' on giant TV screens - and then have the races when the football is over? Give the fans some bang for their bucks.
The bottom line is that Superleague could be perceived in those 'new' markets as a much bigger fish, because of the badges it brandishes on its cars, than here at home. In Europe, we're used to decades of motorsport history, and take it for granted. Over there, I'd expect they're more likely to tune into the football theme.
A lot of people don't get Superleague (although, it has to be said, a lot of these people don't see anything wrong with three man and a dog watching Formula 3). A1GP was a bit easier to comprehend - after all, everyone is from a country - but football and motorsport? What do they have in common?
Well, I just happen to like both, although I enjoy watching Superleague for the fantastic racing it produces rather than because of any footy allegiance. Besides "what's it all about?" the other question I'm most commonly asked is "when's it going to go bust like A1GP?"
Sonangol's backing is a huge boost to Superleague Formula
Unlike A1, Superleague has a proper commercial title sponsor in Sonangol, so it is underwritten to finish this season at least. Plans are in place for seasons four and five, and these will determine whether it has a long-term future. A lot will depend on whether Sonangol re-signs, as most of the Formula 1 grid has been hawking around trying to poach it.
There's been some major upheaval behind the scenes this year, with series founder Alex Andreu departing his role within the organisation, and many of his lieutenants have recently followed suit. This is a shame; Andreu had a great vision for this series, and I fear they might have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. I hope he stays 'in the loop' for the good of all concerned.
Nonetheless, I've never yet heard anyone complain that they've not been paid, or that they're owned millions, like I did on a regular basis in A1. Let's face it, Superleague has cost a fraction to start up and run compared to A1, and by that we're talking in terms of telephone number length figures (with international dialling codes) less. This series is sustainable, whereas A1 relied on regular cash transfusions which sadly ran out.
Going back to the subject of the calendar, I was heartened to learn from director of competition Robin Webb that if Superleague does 'go global' in future seasons, that he would insist on at least six race weekends at what he called "heritage" venues, so the series doesn't forget its European roots. Now, if only Bernie Ecclestone would guarantee the status of all classic European F1 venues in the same vein, wouldn't that be nice to hear?
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