China must bridge the gap or risk being left behind

Formula One racing in China has come a long way since Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello took the Chequered Flag when the Chinese Grand Prix made its debut on the F1 world stage in 2004.
Ti Gong

Pan Yongyong is a well-known name among China’s motor racing fans, although he is better known by his unusual nickname “Polar Shrimp.”

Formula One racing in China has come a long way since Ferrari’s Rubens Barrichello took the chequered flag when the Chinese Grand Prix made its debut on the F1 world stage in 2004. Despite the improvement there is still a long way to go before they can compete with the best, according to China’s F1 expert.

Pan Yongyong is a well-known name among China’s F1 fans, although he is better known by his unusual nickname “Polar Shrimp,” which he uses when appearing on TV as an F1 commentator.

Pan is now the vice general manager of Juss Event’s circuit management center. Apart from commentating on F1 races for local channel Great Sports, he has worked as the deputy editor-in-chief of a Formula One-themed magazine F1 Express. He was also the general manager of an ex-World Rally Championship team FCACA, which competed in the SWRC and PWRC in 2010.

As vice general manager of Juss Event’s circuit management center, Pan’s major duties included the management of Jiading District’s SAIC International Circuit, as well as the operation of over 10 racing events held at the circuit every year.

Pan first showed an interest in cars and racing sport around the age of 9.

“Boys are always attracted to cars,” he said. “It was around 1986 when I started to realize how high-level motor sport and its related industry was and I could not wait to get involved.

“However, like most children of that era, I was from an ordinary family under the background of a centrally planned economy. There were very limited social resources and little choice of entertainment. Therefore, I had to be practical and make motor racing a hobby of mine. But it’s a hobby I have followed for a lifetime.”

Ma Yue / SHINE

Pan worked as the guest commentator for local channel Great Sports.

Pan majored in computer science and software development in college.

“I wanted to get as close as possible to F1,” he said. “I took some courses to acquire machinery-related certificates. It was only in the 1990s, when Shanghai was considering building a F1 circuit, that I realized I could make a contribution.”

Pan began to display his motor racing knowledge by writing sports columns for newspapers, magazines and websites. He became a guest commentator on Great Sports for F1 races in 2003, and impressed the Chinese TV audience with his insights and rich professional knowledge of the sport.

“It was very difficult to collect related information or news when the sport was first approached by Chinese fans,” said Pan. “I used to search for information from overseas websites.

“I used to go through often, as the site gathered quite a lot industry professionals, including Renault F1 team’s chassis engineer and Craig Scarborough, who is now a well-known F1 technical writer. I got acquainted with Scarborough and introduced him to some Chinese media to write columns.”

Pan penned a column for F1 Express from 2005 to 2008 under the pen name of Polar Shrimp.

“I happened to be having polar shrimp when I was asked to think of a pen name for myself,” Pan laughed. “But later I found out in a documentary film that trying to capture polar shrimp is one of the most dangerous occupations in the world, which requires a lot of courage and effort. That suits my character.

“During the four years, I set a goal that I should provide my readers with fresh content they haven’t read from any other media outlet. It also required me to search for and learn new knowledge.”

After the magazine ceased publication in 2008, Pan stepped closer to the sport by becoming the manager of the Shanghai-based FCACA World Rally Team.

“The investor told me that the team was aiming to become the world champion, which matched with my ambition,” said Pan.

Ti Gong

Pan Yongyong (center) and his FCACA team members

FCACA competed in the China Rally Championship in 2008 and showed great potential by finishing runner-up in the team’s 2009 season.

In 2010, with Finnish champion Jari Ketomaa and Chinese champion Wang Rui, FCACA stepped on to the international stage to compete in the World Rally Championship. Pan also became the team’s general manager.

Though FCACA project ended at the end of the 2010 season, due to investors’ problem, Pan said the experience was unique.

“As the team’s general manager, you not only lead the team, but also take up other duties, including the publicity of the team,” Pan said. “It allowed me to see other aspects of motor racing that a columnist could not see, which is charming.”

The experience gave Pan a more macroscopic view over the sport.

“I don’t really have a favorite team or driver, but I would follow a driver as long as he had real capability,” said Pan. “Heroes are built by an era sometimes. We can never deny that Michael Schumacher was a great driver, though his career is comparatively smooth in my point of view.

“Great drivers can be spotted at the early stage of their career. When you look at Ayrton Senna, his driving style was never the same as others. He would push the car to its limit even if he was not paid.”

Ma Yue / SHINE

Pan Yongyong (left) was invited to be the judge of a F1 fan's commentating competition.

Pan also agreed that F1 has lost some charm. Changes in regulations partially led to the situation.

“I miss the days when fuel filling was still allowed in a race, which enriched team strategies,” he said. “The competition between two tire providers was also exciting, which no longer exists due to the cost. However, there is nothing that cannot be changed and fans would eventually accept the changes.

“Some new regulations were made by the FIA to balance the benefits among the teams, while some measures were taken to improve drivers’ safety, like the Hans system, which is extremely necessary.

“For some time, what made F1 interesting was the intelligence the teams’ technicians showed when studying and making use of loopholes in regulations. Double-decker diffuser and deformable nose cones were all ‘inventions’ from between the grey area of F1 regulations. However, such loopholes are becoming fewer and fewer nowadays.”

The 2018 season will be the 15th year the SAIC International Circuit has hosted the Chinese Grand Prix, despite a limited Chinese influence on the F1 racing sport’s premier stage.

“In 90 percent of cases, whether a country can produce good car racers is related to the development of the country’s auto vehicle industry,” said Pan. “But in the other 10 percent of cases, it depends on a driver’s personality. Countries like Spain and Brazil are not known for their car industries, but they have always contributed great drivers.

“A public foundation is crucial, it creates culture and tradition for the development of racing sport. The more people get involved in the car industry, the bigger phenomenon it creates. For China, it is taking a long time and there is no shortcut.

“I feel lucky that I have already experienced a lot of motor racing-related jobs. What I want to do next is to make my contribution to bridging the auto industry and motor sport, which are still comparatively separate in China.”

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