F1 still trying to capture hearts of Chinese fans

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With this year’s running of the Chinese Grand Prix, Formula One has now been in the most populous nation on Earth for ten years. But it appears that most of the potential for the sport in China remains untapped despite a decade of racing.

Chinese viewership for the World Championship dropped in 2012, causing F1 kingpin Bernie Ecclestone (pictured, left) to call in regional broadcasters to show the series in the country instead of a national network. In addition, F1’s sponsor portfolio only has a limited number of Chinese companies, and attendance for the Grand Prix in Shanghai has been spotty at times over the years.

Although Chinese-born Ma Qing Hua currently sits as a reserve driver for Caterham, there isn’t a top Chinese driver in the series and that can’t be helping matters in regards to sparking local interest in the sport. After all, everybody loves the hometown hero (or home-country hero, in this case).

Then there’s the fact that the Chinese fan base is still relatively green when it comes to F1 and motorsports in general — not to mention relatively cash-strapped.

“At the end, it’s all about culture of motorsport in China,” said Shanghai-based F1 journalist Frankie Mao to the Associated Press. “We have fans, but they’re young and can’t afford the high expenses of luxury goods and F1 is luxury. China does have rich people. They love sport cars, but they don’t understand what motorsport really is.”

Things may be getting better, as the AP reports that 90 percent of tickets for this weekend’s Grand Prix have been sold. But in the eyes of McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh, he feels that the sport hasn’t done enough to engage the Chinese and may have to re-think its outreach altogether.

“If you take a new product into a new market, ordinarily you have a marketing plan and you advertise,” Whitmarsh said to the AP. “We’ve put ourselves outside Shanghai and we expect them to come and find us. We need to work a little harder.

“We as a sport are a little bit arrogant. We’re F1. We arrive and people will want to come to see us. But China doesn’t need us.”

Santino Ferrucci will drive No. 14 for AJ Foyt Racing full time in 2023 IndyCar season

Santino Ferrucci AJ Foyt
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Santino Ferrucci will return to full-time racing in the NTT IndyCar Series next season, joining AJ Foyt Racing.

Ferrucci had made eight IndyCar starts with three teams since his last full-time season in 2020 while also racing part time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this year.

He will drive the storied No. 14 Dallara-Chevrolet for four-time Indy 500 winner A.J. Foyt’s team, which will field the car from its Waller, Texas headquarters.

“It’s incredibly exciting to be back in the INDYCAR Series full time,” Ferrucci said in a team release. “Being a part-time driver over the last two years has been hard for me, personally. I’m a race car driver, and I want to compete. Working with different teams has been exciting, and I’m proud that no matter which car I’ve raced, I’ve always shown speed and consistency. I couldn’t be more excited to join AJ Foyt Racing in the 14 Chevy. I can’t wait to make the best of it.”

Ferrucci, 24, had finished a career-best fourth in IndyCar four times, including the 104th Indy 500 in 2020. He was the 2019 Indy 500 rookie of the year with a sixth.

In nine Xfinity starts since 2021, Ferrucci has a career-best finish of 13th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I am thrilled to welcome Santino to the team,” Larry Foyt said in a release. “He’s shown a knack for getting toward the front of the field, and I think he is a racer who moves forward on race day. A.J. sees the fire in him and has enjoyed their meetings together. I think Santino’s experience will help his rookie teammate as well, so he is a great addition to our roster.”

Ferrucci will be teamed at AJ Foyt Racing with Benjamin Pedersen, who finished fifth in the 2022 Indy Lights standings. The team has yet to specify the number for Pedersen’s entry, which will be fielded out of its Indianapolis race shop.

Foyt’s two full-time drivers last season were Dalton Kellett and Kyle Kirkwood, who is moving to Andretti Autosport.