Jingkai Convention and Exhibition Centre
- Circuit length:
- Circuit type:
- Temporary street course
The A1 Grand Prix series broke new ground by hosting the first international motorsport event on the streets of Beijing in 2006 - but the event could hardly be declared a success.
Right up to race weekend there were question marks over the design of the circuit, based around the Jingkai Convention and Exhibition in the Yi Zhuang district to the south-east of the city centre. The long straights along a dual carriageway were seen as potntially dangerous by some (reviving memories of tragedies at AVUS) but the track did at least receive its FIA Grade 2 certification on the morning of practice as planned.
Cue some on-track action - but not for long. While 22 cars headed out onto the circuit, they soon came unstuck at the ludicrously tight Turn 8 hairpin. First-to-arrive Niko Hulkenburg approached at walking pace and still only just made it round. Others found it was only possible to complete a lap by coming to a dead-stop and spin-turning their cars, while still more never made it and hit the concrete wall...
Not surprisingly, the red flags were soon fluttering, with the session abandoned after the third stoppage while a solution was sought. With both sides of a dual carriageway being used, widening the corner was virtually impossible. Add in the presence of a grandstand and the situation became further complicated.
In the end, the hairpin was moved so that it ran adjacent to the pit lane entry, chopping around 1km from the already short course. The cars could now make it round - just - but there was no room for overtaking and drivers were faced with having to dodge the pit lane wall by millimetres as they exited the corner. Hardly ideal.
With one practice session recorded qualifying got underway late in the evening - only for further chaos to ensue. Manhole covers around the circuit were sucked up by the aerodynamics of the cars (despite being welded into position) while advertising banners also fell onto the circuit. Qualifying was abandoned, with grid positions decided by practice times.
By this stage the event had endured the worst of the troubles but the races were not without incident. In the Sprint race, South Africa's Adrian Zaugg spun and stalled his car, blocking half of the track. The safety car was deployed and a flatbed truck came to remove the stricken vehicle. As it stopped to load the South African car, it actually blocked the full width of the track, leaving the safety car and the remaining 21 A1GP cars to come to a halt for nearly half a minute. The majority of the race was completed behind the safety car.
The Feature race was better with fewer laps behind the safety car but it was hardly entertaining, with the tight track layout made overtaking totally impossible for even the most optimistic racers.
So, not a triumphant debut, by any means. It seems unlikely that the A1 GP series will return to the track in its current configuration and the future of the entire event looks to be uncertain. On the plus side, if the action does return to Beijing's streets, it surely has to get better?!