A cigarette store on Huai Hai Road, Shanghai's most fashionable shopping street, had a special offer this week - buy 10 cartons of West cigarettes for 1,100 yuan and receive a free ticket for this weekend's Formula One grand prix. The promotion is an apt symbol of the mixture of corporate sponsorship and city ambition that has brought a grand prix to China for the first time, but at a price that is making poor people ask if the money is well spent. The 150,000 spectators at the track, and the millions of television viewers across China, will see the logos of companies that have paid millions of dollars for the privilege on billboards, cars and the drivers' overalls. They include Sinopec, one of China's three big oil companies, Shell, Vodafone, Hewlett Packard, West, Lucky Strike and Marlboro, British DIY company B & Q, and energy-drink maker Red Bull. Sinopec is the prime sponsor, having paid for the right to name the race and to be the main television sponsor in a multi-million-dollar, three-year deal. 'The race, the first of its kind in China, represents an excellent platform for us to present our company and products to the world,' a Sinopec spokesman said. 'It gives us the chance to show the range of our brands and global image through international sport with the slogan, 'providing clean energy and making a blue sky for this century'.' Industry sources said it won a bidding war with HSBC and Sinochem, one of China's other oil giants, for the sponsorship rights. Listed in Hong Kong, New York, London and Shanghai, Sinopec is one of China's biggest companies, its largest producer of oil products and its second-biggest producer of crude oil. It is rapidly expanding overseas as China frantically seeks to secure oil and its import dependency climbs above 30 per cent. The sponsorship is aimed at the overseas television audience and is designed to raise the company's profile abroad. With Sinochem, Sinopec has a near monopoly in the domestic market and does not need to advertise at home. For the cigarette companies, the logic of sponsorship is simple. China's advertising laws ban them from the media and street billboards - although Chinese manufacturers use billboards that carry their logos, without saying they market tobacco, in apparent breach of the law. The tobacco companies cannot have billboards at the Shanghai track, but their logos will be on the cars and the drivers' overalls. The West cigarettes on sale in Huai Hai Road are produced by Hill of the Red Pagoda, China's top manufacturer, under licence from Imperial Tobacco. West is a sponsor of McLaren, one of the 10 teams taking part, while Marlboro sponsors Ferrari. A spokesman for Hill of the Red Pagoda said that it had considered sponsoring the race but decided against it, choosing instead to sponsor a Formula One channel on Sina.com. The most likely reason is that its foreign sales are very limited, so that exposure to overseas audiences is uneconomic. Of the other sponsors, B & Q, Hewlett Packard and Red Bull are heavily committed to the China market and their sponsorship seems to be directed at the domestic television audience. Vodafone does not sell its products in China and is aiming at the foreign market. The bigger question is whether Shanghai should have built the track at all. It cost five billion yuan to build and billions more were spent on construction of access roads, the relocation of residents and other costs. The track was built on a marsh, involving the placement of 40,000 concrete piles and purchase of most of Asia's styrofoam production. It will be used once a year for the grand prix and be empty for the rest of the year. Negotiations have begun with Moto GP, the motor cycle equivalent of Formula One, and with the German racing car championship to host events in Shanghai. The main beneficiaries are the upmarket hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops of Shanghai. 'We have raised our standard room rate to US$200 a night, plus a 15 per cent service fee,' a spokesman for the Peace Hotel said. 'We are fully booked this week. It is the same story in the other four- and five-star hotels.' Chen Xiyao, director of the International Racing Car Research Centre, said the track would not yield a return in the short term. 'The government is paying more attention to promoting the image of the city rather than immediate payback,' he said. Liu Ming, a taxi driver, was having none of it. 'Formula One is a sport for the rich,' he said. 'With ticket prices at 1,000 yuan, ordinary people cannot go. 'It will be hot this year but will anyone go in two or three years' time? The site is an hour's drive from the city and many people will not go there. 'Motor racing is a minority sport, compared to soccer or basketball. Why can't the government spend the money on the poor?'