Can Formula One succeed in India?

    Story highlights

    • India hosts a Formula One race for the first time this weekend, near Delhi
    • Organizers hoping to overcome the legacy of the 2010 Commonwealth Games
    • Venue was built on land bought from farmers, who have been unhappy with deal
    • Ticket prices for Sunday's race have been slashed to attract more local supporters
    India is in the fast lane. The trillion-plus-dollar economy, Asia's largest after Japan and China, is set to host the world's fastest sport this weekend.
    The subcontinent's inaugural Grand Prix comes barely a year after India earned international scorn for all the chaos and corruption allegations that plagued the 2010 Commonwealth Games staged in New Delhi.
    That event was marred by a host of problems including athletes' alarm over the shoddy construction and condition of their quarters, while a pedestrian bridge leading to the main Jawarhalal Nehru Stadium collapsed two days before the competitors were due to arrive.
    In April this year, India's federal police arrested the Games' chief organizer, Suresh Kalmadi, for suspected corruption.
    Kalmadi, who was involved in bringing F1 to India through his former role at the Indian Olympic Association, was jailed for allegedly buying a time, scoring and result system from a Swiss company at inflated costs. He was also suspended by the political party with which he was an MP.
    But promoters of India's first F1 race hope their $400 million project will repair the damage done to the country's reputation. "The world's perception of India is going to change after the Grand Prix and people will forget what happened because of the Commonwealth Games," said Jaiprakash Gaur, founding chairman of Jaypee Group that built the Buddh International Circuit.
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    A few weeks ago, a fleet of Mercedes-Benz cars whizzed media crews around the 5.125-kilometer circuit, giving them a glimpse of what Indian businesses lauded as a stirring example of their competence.
    "Corporate India is completely capable, and they are capable of executing projects of world class, which has been demonstrated by the F1 track, which looks certainly as one of the best in the world," said Ajay Sharma, a senior director with the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India.
    "This is great news for the country because the investors are also now excited that this is the country where, you know, all the happening things are happening," he told CNN.
    Sharma's lobby group predicts that investments in the motorsport infrastructure could potentially fuel overall economic prosperity by some $10 billion over the next decade. It says the arrival of global sporting bodies -- themselves seeking a foothold in emerging markets -- is an ideal opportunity for international brand-building by Indian businesses.
    However, not everyone is as excited about the event when so many Indians live in abject poverty.
    "The contrast between the rich and the poor is very large in India," said Arun Kumar, a professor at the Center of Economic Studies and Planning at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University.
    "Here, about 40% of our people live in extreme poverty without even basic facilities. In a sense, it sounds very cruel that the nation is spending a large amount of its wealth on such sports."
    The track complex, complete with stands and team enclosures painted in the colors of India's flag, was built by private developers on land acquired from farmers, who later alleged they were short-changed for their properties.
    Last week, the country's Supreme Court froze 25% of ticket revenue after a litigant challenged government tax waivers on the race.
    Critics are questioning the taste of putting up such high-octane shows in a country where a quarter of its billion-plus people still lives on less than a dollar a day.
    With organizers struggling to sell out the event, ticket prices for Sunday's race have already been slashed. The most expensive has dropped from $715 to about $300, and the cheapest from about $120 to $60. But even the lowest amount is equivalent to the monthly wages of tens of thousands of Indians.
    "What do we consider to be a nation? A nation means having a concern for all citizens. In this day and age when advertising has become so large, expectations have risen and these lavish displays only increase discontent," Kumar said.
    "And the ruling elite in the country is backing such displays, which shows it's becoming more callous."
    In cricket-crazy India, some also accept that motorsport, though exciting, is too new to them.
    "I don't think we Indians are much into Formula racing," admits Jai Sethi, a New Delhi resident.
    "And I guess how the race is being done, who wins it, what the rules are and who the teams are have to be known to the Indian public. I'm talking of the masses, not just the elite."