I went in 2014, and it was also my first ever race.
I am leaning towards stand K in favor for stand H. Any advice on that? I will bring my camera and my largest lens (150-500 mm) as I like to take pictures.
I watched from stand H, as I thought we would have a better view of the cars going into the last corner. All in all though I think there is not much difference between Stand K/H other than you are on different sides of the track. I would advise you to try and situate yourself closer to the last corner as that is nearer the closest screen from what I can remember.
How does it work when you buy a ticket for a stand. They seem they are not numbered so I assume it is first grab that is the way it works?
I bought my tickets from the F1 website. I know it is overpriced and there are cheaper options, but as it was my first time going to grand prix, i though going via the official site would lead to less issues. Tickets do have a stand and seat number, but I only found out my exact seating when I collected my ticket at the track.
What is there to do/see before the race begins?
There are some races from other series, but nothing that I was interested in to be honest. But they may have different categories racing there now, so I would advise you to check the official site of the circuit etc..
When do you advice to arrive to the tracks? The race starts at 2pm.
The drivers track parade is 1 hour or so before the race starts. And once you get into the track, it can take awhile to get to your stand/seat. So allow plenty of time for that... also I took a taxi from downtown Shanghai... and the driver got lost a number of times. Only saving grace is that the main grandstand is so large (overall capacity of the stadium is 3rd Largest Stadia in the world) so it was easy to spot once we were in roughly the right area.
When do you have to grab a seat. I do not want to come out as rude, but the Chinese are not famous for lining up and waiting for their turn :-)
Don't think there is any specific time that you have to grab your seat by. There is a guard by each stand who checks your ticket before you walk up the stairs to the stand, so as long as you have your ticket with you.. then you can come and go as you please during practice, quail & the race. If you mean when does the ticket office close, then I am not sure... but as long as you are there anytime before the race then I am sure you will be fine. Also in regards to the Chinese, I didn't have any issues way so ever in terms of people jumping the queue. There were many foreigners during the quail and the race as well.. so it is more of an international crowd.
Any other general advice?
If you want to listen to commentary, then take a device that can tune into the local radio station of the track.. as it is obviously to noisy to hear the commentary from the speakers at the track other than the first few laps.
I would advise you check on how to travel to the circuit via the metro system. Most of the maps are in Chinese, so best to plan or know your journey before you travel.
Also.. Take printouts of any places you want to go to with their names and address in English & Chinese. That way you can point a taxi driver or local etc to the Chinese address... and they should be able to help you.
A taxi cost me around £15-£16 between downtown and the circuit. However if you take a private taxi it can cost up to £40.
Hope all this info helps you and others in some way.