- The Inside Line
It's Mokpo all over againKate Walker October 10, 2014
- Russian Grand Prix
The short-lived Korean Grand Prix, held near the port town Mokpo, was a permanent street circuit without a city, a track built in the wrong part of a country widely seen as a valuable market for Formula One.
The Russian Grand Prix is a permanent street circuit without a city (although it does have an Olympic Park), a track built in the wrong part of a country widely seen as a valuable market for Formula One - albeit with a few geo-political caveats.
While the general off-the-record response to the Sochi Autodrom as a race venue is that it looks rather too much like the Valencia street circuit on TV, there's nothing wrong with the track. Wider shots would pick up the purple mountains in the distance, while helicopter panning can show off the impressive shoreline and lapping waves of the Black Sea. We can make this place pretty.
What we can't do, however, is make it popular.
The name of the venue might be the Sochi Autodrom, but the race is based in a half-horse town called Adler. Sochi considers itself the Monaco of the Black Sea, and rightly so: it's a party town heaving with high-end hotels, fancy restaurants, and nightclubs designed for minimum spends, high heels, and conspicuous consumption. All the things F1 loves.
Adler, on the other hand, is like a badly-equipped Mokpo. And that's a sentence I never thought I'd utter. Teams and media may not be confined to those notorious South Korean love hotels, but the bulk of the paddock is staying in low-rent hotels surrounded by high fences and barbed wire, with one driver telling me off the record that his stay in the hotel we both shared was the closest he'd ever been to prison.
Restaurants in Adler seem to be incapable of serving food, which is rather unfortunate given that the primary function of a restaurant is to serve food. Long menus disguise the fact that the kitchens have nothing in stock, and the average lead time between placing an order and receiving one's meal is hovering around the two-hour mark.
Last night I took the 25-minute taxi ride to Sochi proper, ate a two-course meal, and got the taxi home while a group of friends who'd elected to stay in Adler were still waiting for their appetisers.
Mokpo may have been ghastly, but it was so bad it was good. And if it wasn't good, it was at least heaving with bars, restaurants, and clubs all geared at helping you drink the pain away with endless rounds of cheap biru. There's no shortage of vodka in Adler, but there is a paucity of things to do, of places to go. Each morning groups of people report back on their long wait here, or their disappointing evening there. One by one possible venues are crossed off a list that was short to begin with, horror stories of bad nights out are shared without a funny ending to take the sting from the tale.
The problem here is not one of nationality, but one of geography. A scant 25 kilometres along the coast is a town that would be a far more natural home for Formula One, although the challenge of getting to this part of the world will always be a problem for as long as there are no direct flights to speak of.
Instead, if Formula One is going to make a success of its time in Russia we need to look to Moscow, that big-spending, high-rolling city heaving with brands familiar to the fancy folk of the Paddock Club: Buddha Bar, Nobu, et al. A sport that sells itself on being all about the glamour isn't doing a great marketing job when all it can deliver is the grim.
Sochi may be where Russia's elite comes to party in the summer, but come October the party people are long gone. Fewer than expected have elected to make the journey back for F1, probably because they know far better than we do that if you're going to have fun on the Black Sea, Adler is not the place to do it.
The Russian Grand Prix in its current location is Mokpo Mk II, a perfect symbol of F1's unceasing dedication to repeating the same mistakes over and over and over again, always with the best of intentions. Can anyone say future white elephant?