Pride and hype as F1 roars back to China after Covid absence

Two years ago the Shanghai International Circuit hosted a Covid hospital, but this weekend it will stage Formula One once more as the sport returns to China for the first time since the pandemic.

Adding to the excitement of fans, they will see Shanghai native Zhou Guanyu drive at his home track in Formula One for the first time.

"I'm extremely excited, in these 5,000 years of (Chinese) history there has only been one Zhou Guanyu," said fan Wang Xiaotian.

Shanghai last witnessed an F1 race in 2019, before Covid and China's travel restrictions put a halt to almost all major international sport in the country.

Tickets for the action-packed Formula One weekend -- which begins with Friday morning practice, sees a sprint race on Saturday and ends with the grand prix on Sunday -- sold out within minutes of going on sale in January.

Ma Qinghua, the first Chinese to drive an F1 car when he took part in a 2012 practice session, said the sport's return will have a "very good impact", especially on younger fans who did not have the chance to see their heroes in the flesh during the pandemic.

"This group of people are very much anticipating the chance to witness a race personally," Ma, a pioneer of China's motorsport industry, told AFP.

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