The hoardings are up, circuit lines freshly painted and the desert dust wiped off the greenery and grandstands.
The Buddh International Circuit in the outskirts of New Delhi is all set for the third Indian Grand Prix this weekend when the country will play host to a flashy mix of marketing glitz, technological wizardry and glamor.
But this year, the excitement is being eclipsed by speculation this could be the last grand prix in India, at least for now.
The apparent suicide of Germany goalkeeper Robert Enke is a stark reminder that top footballers aren’t immune from the slings and arrows that life throws our way.
In an age when European soccer has never been richer and the rewards for the best players have never been higher it’s easy to envy the game’s stars. Many of them earn more in a week than you or I get paid in a year, simply because they have been born with an exceptional, physical talent.
It’s not easy to empathise with people who are cheered by tens of thousands of fans every week, who travel all over the world at someone else’s expense and who can afford to buy almost anything – houses, jewellery, cars – without thinking twice.
International footballers have lifestyles we can only dream of but that doesn’t mean their lives aren’t a nightmare.
Football may only be a game but, like all professional sport, it is also big business and the pressure to achieve results is huge. Of all the players on the pitch, none is more exposed than the man guarding the net.
As England goalkeeper David James wrote, in the Guardian newspaper earlier this year, “Whereas an outfield player can risk a bad pass and expect to be covered, a goalkeeper has no margin for error. It makes us pretty pedantic and intense at times.”
Tellingly, he goes on to say, “Keepers are guarded and we become more so as we get older.”
Goalkeepers have always been viewed as independent, aloof, a bit quirky even. They pride themselves on being the rock on which a successful team can be built while running the risk that they’ll become the shaky foundations of a bad side.
Robert Enke was a good goalkeeper. He was tipped to be Germany’s number one at next year’s World Cup. After spells with clubs as famous as Barcelona and Benfica, he was playing for Bundesliga side Hannover 96 and his form had attracted interest from the mighty Bayern Munich.
But Enke’s excellence on the field couldn’t protect him from life’s vagaries off it. His two-year-old daughter died three years ago from a heart illness and his wife has admitted the player was suffering from depression. They adopted a baby girl in May and it’s thought Enke was concerned she would be taken away if the authorities learnt about his condition.
If that doesn’t seem an insurmountable problem maybe it simply underlines that Robert Enke’s death is as tragic and mystifying as anyone else’s suicide.
Footballers may be rich and privileged but, in the end, they have no special immunity against the reality of life.
Arsenal are flying. They haven’t lost since early September – a run of eleven matches – and if they win their game in hand Arsene Wenger’s side will be second in England’s Premier League.
However, even admirers of the Arsenal manager – and I count myself among them – can’t shake a nagging concern.
Is Arsene Wenger’s obsession with beautiful football masking an ugly neglect for winning titles?
I know. I know. That sounds like one of Carrie’s diary entries from “Sex & The City” but you don’t have to be an Arsenal fan to have a crush on Wenger’s young Gunners. Their silky skills and pretty passing can set pulses racing and hearts fluttering.
But the coach who once talked about the metaphorical “prettiest wife at home” must know the best romances are marked with permanent reminders. After four trophy-less seasons, the Arsenal groupies want something to show for their courtship.
In an exclusive interview for CNN, Wenger told me that it was the intelligence of his players which made him confident Arsenal can win the Premier League. He said, “I believe that we have a fair and true chance.”
However, the biggest strengths of his team – its youthful exuberance and technical ability – is also its biggest weakness. The average age of Arsenal’s squad is 23.3, more than a year younger than any other in the Premier League and more than five years younger than the oldest squads. But how often does the youngest squad top the table?
Arsenal’s youth system has been prolific in recent seasons but Wenger has been forced to trust it because the club want to pay off the debt from their new stadium before they splash out on star names.
They have signed experienced players. Andrei Arshavin and Thomas Vermaelen both look like good signings and neither were particularly cheap. But over the same period Wenger sold Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor.
In the five years up to the end of the 2007/8 season, Arsenal’s net spending (transfer money spent minus transfer money received) was $60 million versus $730 million by Chelsea, $208 million by Liverpool and $157 million by Manchester United.
Those figures prove there is an element of genius about Wenger’s work. He is a master at delivering a lot for very little. Surely, though, now is the time for Arsenal to win a major competition instead of merely illuminating it with their brilliant brand of football.
The longer the wait for another trophy goes on, the stronger the argument that Arsenal’s professor is more of a mad scientist.