Saturday afternoon. Ratchadamnoen Road, the “Street of Kings”, in the historic sector of Bangkok reverberated to the sights, sounds and atmosphere of modern-day Formula 1 as Australian Grand Prix star Mark Webber demonstrated the 2010 F1 World Championship-winning Red Bull RB6 single-seater on a temporary course laid out specially for the occasion.
Ratchadamnoen Road has never heard the roar of Grand Prix engines, and the arrival of the victorious England-based team caused huge anticipation that swiftly translated into raw numbers: estimates put the crowd at as high as 150,000 people.
Webber, from Queanbeyan in New South Wales, scored four wins, five pole positions and three fastest laps during the season but agonisingly lost out to team mate Sebastian Vettel in the nail-biting chase for the 2010 Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship title..
This past week in Bangkok, anticipation was in the air. Webber jetted into the city last Friday morning before attending a packed press conference later in the evening.
Saturday activity started early as the finishing touches were put to the temporary grandstands and royal enclosure, and by mid-morning, as the temperatures were rising steadily on a typical hot and sunny Bangkok day, eager fans were already staking out their spots all along Ratchadamnoen Road.
Formula One has a long way to go before it really captures the attention of the public here and so this demonstration - organised through the deep link that the giant energy drinks company has with this South East Asian nation - was a small first stepping stone towards what many hope will be the hosting a future Thailand Grand Prix.
This spectacular event was free and, in a city that is always ready to embrace the latest fashion trends, the undisputed glamour status of Grand Prix racing saw the crowds surging onto Ratchadamnoen Road.
The key concept of the event was to commemorate the 83rd birthday of the revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Members of the royal family, led out Her Royal Highness Princess Chulabhorn Walailak, arrived in a motorcade to view proceedings from a specially constructed pavilion.
Presenting the day’s programme were Red Bull Thailand’s Managing Director Mr Saravoot Yoovidhya and Chairman Chalerm Yoovidhya, while other members of the family were in the entourage.
With the royal party in place, the crowd, bolstered by many curious tourists who had drifted in from the nearby backpacker haven of Khao San Road, was now filling out every available space: crammed on balconies, perched on telephone kiosks and clinging to telegraph poles. The opening act of the afternoon, an extravagant parade of floats and marchers, crept up Ratchadamnoen Road.
Finally on the last truck came Webber with Thailand’s two most popular actresses, Aum Patcharapa Chaichuea and Ploy Cherman, on either side; the rugged Australian waving to the rapturous applause of the crowd.
The "warm up" was the hugely-popular Red Bull drifting demonstration team before Webber's 2.4 litre Renault V8 engine fired up in anger, and, for the first time, the scream of a current-generation Grand Prix racing engine was heard on the streets of Bangkok.
Webber turned in four laps to the delight of the crowd, concluding with an extravagant series of “donuts” in front of the royal pavilion before climbing from the car, waving to the excited crowd and hoisting a Thai national flag above his head.
The weekend’s festivities and F1 theme continued into Sunday evening with the Red Bull single-seater shipped up to the commercial heart of the 'new' city where the RB6 formed the much-admired sideshow to a concert featuring a string of top Bangkok bands.
-- Edd Ellison, Bangkok