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The new wave from Asia meets the giants of the west at the Macao GP

The new wave from Asia meets the giants of the west at the Macao GP

There will be three names to watch at the FIA GT World Cup in Macao. The first is a Swiss, naturalised Italian citizen Edoardo Mortara, the current champion known as the “King of Macao”, who triumphed on the Circuito da Guia between 2011 and 2013. He comes to the former Portuguese protectorate wearing the stripes of the driver to be beaten, but it won’t be easy for him. Raffaele Marciello – the second name to note – will be driving a Mercedes just like Mortara’s. Marciello, Italian, born in 1994, already has three Blancpain GT Series championships in the bag, and is serious contender for the final victory. As is German Maro Engel – the third name to remember – a veteran at the wheel of the Mercedes, in which he won the event in 2015. 

The Macao GP is always a very special event, and it will be once again in 2018. First of all, because the Circuito da Guia is a big part of the history of motorsports, as it was inaugurated in 1954 and is remembered for thrilling, spectacular events, but also for tragedies such as the deaths of motorcyclist Luís Carreira and Hong Kong automobile racer Phillip Yau Wing-choi, who both lost their lives on the streets of Macao on November 11 and 12, 2012, and that of rider Dan Hogarty, killed in a fatal accident during last year’s event.

But to this we must add a geographical consideration: the event takes place in Asia, one of the fastest-growing markets today for motorsports and motors in general. The Asian automotive market is huge, and very dynamic, both in terms of absolute value and in comparison with the other continents. China alone represents a third of the global automobile market in terms of the number of cars sold, while India and Thailand rank at the top of the list of countries that buy the most motorcycles: it follows that the automotive manufacturers are all shifting a good part of their interest toward Asia. Underlying this shift is the continent’s rapid economic growth, which has transformed citizens’ shopping baskets and put cars and motorcycles much higher on their list of priorities.

As usual, motorsports lead the way, providing the perfect connection between the technology industry, show business and marketing. In short, motorsports shift all kinds of things: goods, people, brands, and money, and shift technological development several steps ahead too. This means that even countries without a long tradition of automobiles are now learning to appreciate their benefits. In their own way.

Formula Uno is an exemplary case. The 2015 return to the world’s most important motorsports event of Honda – an exclusive Pirelli partner – was not a particularly brilliant one. But after some running in with McLaren at its side, the Japanese manufacturer convinced them all with an encouraging performance at the world championships, where it supplied the engine for the Red Bull. And in 2019 it will be back in a racing team competing for the title (Red Bull Racing). Honda’s secret is that it has made all the adjustments and improvements a bit at a time, with the patience and work ethic that have made the Japanese famous, to the extent that the Red Bull Team’s consultant Helmut Marko has fallen in love with the brand.

But the big margins for growth reveal that the know-how and cultural background of the Asian countries still don’t carry a lot of weight in motorsports, particularly in Formula Uno. With a few exceptions, such as the well-established Macao GP, the Asian approach to cars is still evolving, both for the manufacturers and for the public, still not attracted to competitions in large numbers. While the European and American public both have stronger roots, however different they may be: the Old World still sees Formula Uno in terms of its original spirit of technological advancement and performance, while in the States, which have a love/hate relationship with F1, attention tends to be focused on the event’s spectacular nature, on entertaining the audience.
These very different approaches have given rise to sensational challenges in world competitions, which have thus become an abstract ideological confrontation rather than a concrete, technical one. But the gap has narrowed in recent years, as Formula Uno demonstrates. The engineering complexity of the single-seater is such as to require extreme specialisation, and research aimed at taking its performance as far as it will go has become totalising, even affecting driving styles. Which are no longer based on a credo, an idea, but on the demands of the competition itself, reducing the gap between the two schools of thought.

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