- GP Week
F1's Russian RouletteAdam Hay-Nicholls October 19, 2010
This week former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett claimed that a number of attempts were made on his life after the Australian Grand Prix moved from Adelaide to Melbourne. Crikey, what will happen if the Russian Grand Prix ever moves from Sochi?
Bernie Ecclestone was there on Thursday, stood next to prime minister Vladimir Putin, to announce plans that F1 will set up camp in the Olympic city from 2014. This is Bernie's dream, and he's been working on it since the late 1970s when he was in discussion with Leonid Brezhnev. There were several attempts, notably in 1983, to put Russia on the grand prix calendar but each time it was blocked.
In the early '00s there were other plans, focused on Moscow, but disputes over commercial contracts resulted in the firing of bullets. This 2014 event will be a real test of the new Russian regime. The only mafia Bernie wants running the show is his mafia. Bernie has disclosed that he's been looking to do deals with all Olympic venue: "In all the Olympic cities I have been to so far these venues are often almost never used after the games," he said. "I think it is very important that these things are thought through properly, and, obviously, that is being done in Sochi."
I'm sure we're all in agreement that a race in Russia is long overdue and represents a fantastic opportunity both commercially and in terms of growing the sport's global fan base. But the person most excited to hear the news was Vitaly Petrov. The Vyborg Rocket's seat at Renault is now as secure as an Oligarch's 12 digit pin code. Renault are now in an enviable position. They have the best hand when it comes to pitching for Russian-orientated backers, having already added Flagman vodka to their portfolio a fortnight ago.
It's no surprise that Mr Putin has grabbed the reins and stepped into the photo frame on this venture. Besides positioning Russia as progressive, hi-tech and open for business, motorsport complements Putin's ironman image. But shaking hands with Bernie isn't enough. If he's to take this announcement for all it's worth he needs to be seen behind the wheel of an F1 car himself. Not a two seater either. Putin will want to be in control. Renault organise their brilliant 'Feel It' days for VIPs. I'm sure the Russian PM would be a welcome guest ahead of the inaugural race.
By chance I was in Moscow last week, concerned with some non-F1 business. I joked to colleagues that I was headed for Mokpo, the closest city to the Korean GP track, but my travel agent screwed up. While there, I saw dozens of people clad in Ferrari F1 jackets, and many people I met were clued up on who was leading the world championship this year. Russia won't struggle to engage with the locals like Turkey and Bahrain have. Instead, the Russian Grand Prix will be the biggest draw of the year.
Especially if Vladimir Putin is on pole. And anyone who tries to overtake him will be given a drive-thru penalty to Siberia.