Formula 1 already has interest in a second race in China and expects Alfa Romeo’s signing of Guanyu Zhou to have a “huge impact” on the championship’s presence in the country.
The Chinese Grand Prix at Shanghai has been absent from the calendar since 2019 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and will not be part of the 2022 schedule either.
That means there will be no home race for new Alfa Romeo driver Zhou, who will become the first Chinese driver in F1.
However, F1 has underlined the importance of the market as it recently agreed a new multi-year deal for the race to continue until 2025.
Zhou’s signing was also believed to coincide with the desire for a second F1 race in China, which F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali has hinted is likely.
In an exclusive interview with The Race, Domenicali said it is “100%” realistic for the country to have a second grand prix.
“And I can tell you we have already received interest from another city to have a grand prix in China,” he added.
F1 has had a reduced global presence in 2020 and 2021 because of the pandemic. It relied heavily on European grands prix last year but this season returned to a more normal schedule.
However, China, Japan and Singapore remained absent, and while Japan and Singapore are scheduled to return in 2022 Domenicali said it is “vital” to return to China because it is a very important area for the championship.
“Next year we will not be there, not because of us, it’s because of the pandemic,” said Domenicali.
“That’s why we extended the contract this year straight away for three more years, to make sure that there is this understanding for us to be there.
“And I’m sure that the effect of Zhou being in the F1 world, the first Chinese driver in Formula 1, will have a huge impact on the awareness.
“That’s an area where we should be present, for sure.
“Because it’s an area of big development, all the OEMs are very interested in staying there.”
China has been on the F1 calendar since 2004 and as the world’s second-biggest economy with a population of more than 1.4billion people it is among the most valuable places for F1 to race.
The Shanghai race has struggled to maintain strong attendance over the years but the most recent edition in 2019, which was the 1000th world championship race, claimed to have a 30% rise in race-day attendance.
Giving the crowd a home driver could be a watershed moment in the popularity of the race.
Ma Qing Hua took part in four practice sessions across 2012 then participated in Friday practice in China in 2013 but Zhou will be the first full-time presence, assuming he remains on the grid beyond 2022.
The importance of a local driver is felt at various races, including Britain (mainly Lewis Hamilton), the Netherlands (Max Verstappen) and Mexico (Sergio Perez).
“It shows what I always said since the beginning when I came in this position about the power of the drivers,” said Domenicali.
“The drivers are at the centre of our project, because they are aspirational, they attract fans. Everyone wants to see them fight.
“So that’s why it’s fundamental to say that today we are in such an incredible position where we have so many good drivers for the medium term. The drivers are not the problem. Because they are all very good, very talented, very connected with the world.
“That’s the value. And on this, I think that we have a big, big interest in developing with the federation [the FIA] the growth of young, talented drivers.
“That’s why we also see a great future for Formula 3 and Formula 2, that is part of the pyramid that we control.
“This is really the most important element that will allow us to get bigger.”