Can Chinese people really enjoy the thunder of high performance cars on the prestigious Formula One (F1) circuit?
The quandary confronting organizers and sponsors is under the spotlight right before the start of the global sports event in Shanghai next week.
Experts and organizers are trapped in a red-hot debate over whether F1 racing can roar to a commercial bonanza in China.
"The market is simply not there. How can the world's top auto commercial tournament be guaranteed a business success in China," Z. S. Jones, executive managing director of Shanghai WP Automotive Consultancy Co Ltd, asked China Business Weekly last week.
In eyes of the independent auto analyst, the F1 race is a complicated, high-end commercial operation involving advanced technology and a long-standing culture about automobiles that will require a solid and well-educated audience basis.
If there are no die-hard fans to support the market, it will simply be an impossible mission for commercial operations to make it function, Jones said.
"Small numbers of supporters will result in low audience ratings. In that case, TV stations will be reluctant to pay broadcasting fees and advertisers and sponsors will not get involved," he said.
However, China Central Television (CCTV), the major broadcaster of the Shanghai leg, will broadcast the event nationwide almost for free.
When organizers of the Shanghai leg tried to negotiate the broadcasting fee with CCTV, the country's largest TV station ruled out the possibility of paying.
"We will not pay for broadcasting the event, since the cost is an astronomical figure and the advertisement return is not satisfactory at all," a senior official with CCTV's sports division said.
Due to CCTV's monopoly status within the domestic broadcasting sector, the station finally captured the rights for a minimal fee.
But whether the tournament will attract a large audience and "drive" the Chinese audience crazy is still an open question, one which will be answered next week.
"We will just wait and see," Jones said.
Endorsing Jones' points, Yi Jiandong, senior researcher on the sports industry at the Beijing