Steering New Path: China’s speed king Ma Qinghua leads from front
- Updated: July 25, 2014
MA QINGHUA wrote motorsport history on June 8 when he won only his second race in the World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) to become the first Chinese driver to top the podium at an FIA event.
A Formula One test driver for HRT in 2012 and Caterham in 2013, the Shanghai-born star has quickly adapted to WTCC this year, driving the fourth car for the powerful Citroen Total team, which features current leader Jose Maria Lopez, Yvan Muller and Sebastian Loeb, the nine-time World Rally Championship winner.
Ma, 26, won the second race in June’s Race of Russia, having finished sixth in the first race. The Venetian Macao recently announced its sponsorship of Ma, who is now preparing for WTTC races in Beijing and Shanghai in October and his Macau Grand Prix debut in November.
You’re an idol to many Chinese race fans, but who was your racing hero?
Actually, I really like Ayrton Senna. I think he’s one of the best drivers in the world. I liked him not only because of the results he got, but there’s a feeling for his personality in the car. He makes the other drivers feel that he’s the king. He made the car feel like it complemented his body.
Did you receive any helpful advice from teammates or other drivers when you were a Formula One test driver in 2012 and 2013?
Of course, especially from Pedro de la Rosa, my teammate at HRT in 2012. He’s one of the most experienced drivers in Formula One and a former President of the GPDA (Grand Prix Divers’ Association). He let me know a lot of things, not only on the technical side but also how to be a top driver outside of the car, how to face people, how to be professional and how to prepare yourself.
How would you describe your driving style?
As motorsport improves every day, you can’t really have a coach because the technique to drive a car is always improving. You need to learn new driving techniques and the new technology of the car to adapt your driving style. Of course, I want to learn from all the best drivers in the world, to understand what they’ve got and what they’re learning to make myself stronger.
You’ve been a reserve driver for two Formula One teams. How long do you think it will be before China has an F1 driver?
Motorsport started in Europe 150 years ago, while I think last year was the 10th year of Formula One in Shanghai. The gap is quite clear, so it’s not a surprise that we don’t have an F1 driver yet. Anyway, in these 10 years, we have had the biggest events in China and also our local championships are getting stronger. More and more Chinese drivers are competing in international races.
I’d be honoured to be the first Chinese to race in F1, so I think it’s a good step. I think the future is quite bright for the future of Chinese motorsport. We just need to give it a little bit more time.
How do you feel you’ve adapted to the Touring Car Championship, having been an F1 test driver and also raced for Caterham in last year’s GP2 Series?
No matter which car I drive, I’m going to push it to its limitations and try to get the best out of myself. Everyone has a Formula One dream, but now I’m racing WTCC so I’m going to try my very best to win as many races as possible and do as best as I can in my whole career.
It’s a very good chance for me to improve and to see a lot of the world-class racers, to learn from them, to be with them and to have an experience with them. I’ll be gaining more experience and improving my skills throughout the year.
As a new driver in Touring Car, were you nervous about racing with and against so many world-class drivers?
Outside of the car, I always have respect for the champion drivers and the other drivers in the championship. But when I’m inside the car and I’m on the circuit, I actually don’t care and it doesn’t matter what the other drivers are doing. I just want to win the race and nothing else.
After winning in Russia, you finished 11th in the first race in Belgium and retired in the second race. Were these results disappointing after the high in Russia?
I had a few ups and downs, and some mechanical problems in my two previous races. You have to understand that I’ve just joined a new team and am racing a new car, so there’s still a lot of room for improvement. I’ve had pretty good results overall.
No matter what the ups and downs, I’m still trying to improve and the team are still trying to help me get better. There’s room for improvement, for sure. Hopefully this will all help me get ready when I come back to China for my next races.
You’ll be making your Macau Grand Prix debut in November with a lot of publicity, after your win in Russia and your new sponsorship by The Venetian Macao. How do you feel about this pressure?
Following my performance and result in Russia, there are now greater expectations, but I just look at the races in Beijing, Shanghai and Macau as more milestones for me to achieve in my whole career.
The Macau Grand Prix has a long history, attracting a lot of top racers and a lot of spectators and TV audience, so I’m very honoured to be sponsored by The Venetian Macao and to be able to compete in this great race.
Hopefully with my influence now among the Chinese race fans, I’ll be able to attract more Chinese fans to support me but also to support the Macau Grand Prix, Macau tourism and The Venetian Macao. I’m looking forward to this great race.
What are your thoughts about racing for the first time in Macau, which is such a tough circuit?
I’m very excited about this race, but yes, it’s a tough race. It’s going to be difficult for a new driver on this kind of circuit because there’s no chance to practise before the race weekend. Normally an experienced driver would have an advantage, but anyway, I will push myself as much as I can to fight for the title.
I’ve noticed that so many people are already talking about the Macau Grand Prix and I’m sure in November there will be a lot more talk and excitement around the event.
Do you and the Citroen Total team have any special strategy for Macau?
We’ve already started discussing with the team about tactics and the strategies we’ll use in Macau. Before the race, I’m going to spend some time in Macau to do some site checks and also to try to do some training on the simulator to improve my skills and prepare for the race.