CHINESE GRAND PRIX: SHANGHAI
AN invitation-only Hugo Boss fashion show, free-flowing Veuve-Cliquot champagne at a private party hosted by Louis Vuitton, US$4,000 hotel suites and even US$50 box lunches.
It's all part of Formula One fever that has swept China's wealthiest and glitziest city as it revels in a heady mix of glamour, speed and money that some are saying evokes Shanghai's almost mythically sinful colonial past.
In the pre-race run-up that began as Formula One teams arrived this week, this city of nearly 17 million people has brimmed with pride and anticipation as promoters have shifted in to high gear for today's race.
Motor racing may still be a novelty to ordinary Chinese but organisers here are working flat-out to stir local interest.
“We are doing more this week in China than other Grands Prix,” said Jim Wright, head of marketing for Williams F1, which recently opened a store in the city selling pricey team T-shirts, hats and key rings.
Hoping to cash in on the marketing bonanza, fine goods purveyors Gucci and Louis Vuitton also opened stores in Shanghai, while Jean Georges, one of the cities most expensive eateries was offering F1 box lunches worth the equivalent of a Chinese construction workers' wages.
Tickets, too, are for the privileged only.
Prices range 370 to 3,700 yuan (US$45-US$445) in a country where average annual salaries run to about US$1,000, putting the spectacle well beyond most people's means.
“This is just too expensive, it's not suitable for China to hold such a thing,” said Zhang Tian, a 23-year-old architecture student.
Controversy has in fact dogged the event since Shanghai won seven-year hosting rights in 2002, with the government coming under fire for spending US$300mil on just the construction of the state-of-the-art circuit.
About 15-20% of ticket holders are from overseas, while another 50% will be travelling to Shanghai from other mainland cities, organisers claimed.
The crush has resulted in nearly all of 578 of the Ritz Carlton's rooms being booked with many guests opting for Formula One packages that start at US$500 a day, said Michelle Wan, a director at the elite hotel.
“Many people who have come to Shanghai on business are staying a few extra days because Formula One is here,” she said.
For those particularly well-heeled residents and guests, the Shanghai government on Friday held a grand ball, where the powerful and monied rubbed elbows with Chinese Olympic stars and F1 luminaries.
At one of the city's trendiest entertainment spots, Xintiandi, Button and teammate Takuma Sato arrived to promote their team and show themselves to the public, but police and a well-placed barricade kept the uninvited outside looking in. – AFP