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India feels the force of Formula One

Throw in a dash of Lady Gaga, a soupçon of Bollywood glamour and the appearance of the planet's jet-setting Formula One drivers and you can probably understand why the inaugural Indian Grand Prix yesterday sparked such a subcontinental commotion.

The proceedings, which followed a familiar pattern with another victory for the champion-elect, Sebastian Vettel, may have been as interesting as unbuttered toast, and only those from the country’s middle and upper-class ranks could afford to buy tickets -- the cheapest seats were priced at 2500 rupees, which is more than the majority of Indians earn in six months -- but here was a chance for their politicians and sporting panjandrums to prove that they merit their place in Bernie Ecclestone’s empire.

No doubt, the arrival of Gaga to promote her new CD, Born This Way, during an after-party concert in Greater Noida, was a propaganda coup for those who were desperate to exorcise the dismal headlines which surrounded last year’s Commonwealth Games in Delhi.

And several of the drivers, not least Ferrari’s Felipe Massa, did their utmost to justify the expense of around £250m which was lavished on creating the Buddh International Circuit by declaring: “India reminds me of Brazil 20 years ago. Brazil has grown a lot since then and so now, I believe, with events such as this, will India.”

However, in a land where the have-nots outnumber the haves by a million to one, there is something jarring about the contrast between the lifestyles of those such as Vettel, who could make £100m from the sport before he turns 30, and the disgruntled farmers who vented their anger at the intrusion of F1 into their once-settled lives.

In purely statistical terms, India’s foray into the fast lane was significantly more successful than that of Korea -- whose race is in danger of being pulled from the calendar amid financial problems -- and there was certainly no shortage of cricketers, film-makers and calendar girls to satisfy the demands of the Indian media.

And yet, if one ignored the surface glitz, and focused on the present state of the grand prix business, it should be obvious that 2011 has been a year of peripatetic processions for Vettel, whose march to the crown has been so relentlessly predictable and all-conquering that any vestige of drama or excitement was extinguished long ago.

The whole weekend also turned into a deflating experience for Scotland’s Paul di Resta, who used to get the better of Vettel on a regular basis when the pair went toe-to-toe in the early stages of their careers but, for the moment, has been forced to regard anything inside the top 10 as a bonus which, given the tools at his disposal, is the only way to stay sane.

Di Resta struggled in qualifying, starting 13th on the grid, five positions behind his Force India colleague, Adrian Sutil. The Scot continued to toil when the main event commenced and his cause was hardly helped by tactics which saw him pitting twice and plummeting backwards to 19th after 20 of the 60 laps; a scenario which effectively meant he was in damage-limitation mode for the rest of the action.

“We went for a fairly aggressive strategy -- starting on the hard tyre -- and it was always the plan to come in early, with the hope of a safety car,” said Di Resta at the climax.

“It was a gamble to get rid of the hard tyre early on and, if it had worked, we would have gained a pit stop and done the race on three sets of softs, which was the quickest way. We had to do three stops, because of the tyre wear, which was quite high to begin with, but which got better later in the race.” Confused? You are not alone.

In other circumstances, his eventual 13th place would have prompted disappointment from the West Lothian competitor, particularly considering how Sutil ended among the points again, in ninth. But Di Resta has apparently done sufficiently well in his rookie season to be granted a new contract for 2012 and the paperwork is expected to be completed before the next GP in Abu Dhabi, although it remains unclear whether the 26 year-old will be partnered with Sutil or Nico Hulkenberg next time round.

However, while that sounds like good news, the Scot privately knows that another season at Force India means he will have to carry on foraging for meagre rewards, pushing for a ninth here and a seventh there.

Barring some miraculous transformation in the team’s fortunes, they seem destined to trail in the slipstream of Red Bull and McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes and, despite the positivity which emanates from Di Resta, he must wish that the likes of Michael Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello and Nick Heidfeld would hang up their helmets and clear the grid for the new generation.

However, the labourers who toiled to construct the Buddh facility would love to have his problems.

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