Fresh rumours of a Russian Grand Prix

Tiago Monteiro, MidlandF1-Toyota, Bahrain, 2006 | Midland F1 / Crash Media GroupBernie Ecclestone is expected to visit Russia next weekend amid new rumours that he is planning a Grand Prix in Russia. He is reported to be heading to St Petersburg to discuss holding a Russian Grand Prix on a purpose-built track from 2010. He said:

Nothing is done yet but this could be an interesting development for the sport. We’d like to get it in the calendar as soon as we can but that depends on them. It’s down to how long it takes them to get the circuit ready.”

But there have been attempts to organise a Russian Grand Prix in the past – and the combination of political rivalries in Russia and Ecclestone’s flabbergastingly high prices have killed them off.

Organising a Grand Prix in Russia has been high on Ecclestone’s agenda for several years. Seven years ago he said: “It is the FIA Formula One world championship and it’s about time we had a round of this championship in Russia.”

The Nagatino project

In November 2000 the government of Moscow city signed a $100m deal with Tom Walkinshaw to build a circuit on Nagatino Island alongside the Moskva river, close to the city centre.

Walkinshaw later revealed that Ecclestone had been working on the project for over a decade. Nagatino Island was chosen over a competing bid to build a track near Sheremetjevo airport.

The plan for Nagatino Island was to construct a circuit in a similar mould to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on Notre Dame island in the St Lawrence Seaway. Access to the venue would be via a three-lane motorway underground rail stop and ferry terminal. It would also feature a yacht club, hotels and a kart track. Hermann Tilke would design the 3.6km circuit.

In February 2001 Ecclestone said: “If people behind the project keep their promise of building a modern race track in Russia in the next two to three years, then it would be a right thing to have a Formula One race in Russia within two to three years.”

The following May, on his first visit to Russia, Ecclestone made arrangements with Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov for the Russian Grand Prix to join the F1 calendar in 2003. The meeting ended well – Luzhkov sending Ecclestone home with a jar of his home-made honey!

Delays

The attraction of holding a race in Russia at the time was clear: many of the teams were backed by tobacco companies, and Russia offered another venue where their branding could be displayed without restrictions, as well as a vast and untapped source of money.

Ecclestone returned in March 2003 to finalise the deal. But construction of the circuit had run into delays, which may well have been linked to the collapse of Walkinshaw’s Arrows team the previous year. A spokesperson for the constructors told the press: “The project is ready, but I don’t think they will start construction until all the documents are signed.”

The press conference to announce the arrival of the venue on the F1 calendar was cancelled. Luzhkov said: “We have postponed the signing for a month because we do not agree on several points in the contract.”

Nonetheless Ecclestone remained positive: “The deal was agreed a year ago and there is no going back on the agreement, it’s only a postponement.”

Hopes that the problems could be resolved in the coming weeks were quickly dashed. It emerged that the sticking point was, as ever, the difficulty of meeting the costs involved.

Politics and the price

Luzhkov’s deputy Iosif Ordzhonikidze said: “We want to lift the burden from the city budget and put responsibility for financing the project completely on the investor.” The projected cost of construction had ballooned to $1.5bn. The plan was finally axed in September 2002.

Accusations of blame for the failure flew in all directions. Luzhkov said Ecclestone “wanted to keep all the rights for the event – ticketing, television, advertising – which would leave us with only engine smoke. That’s why the negotiations failed.” It certainly sounds like Ecclestone’s standard operating practices.

But there were also claims of failure on the Russian side. The vice-president of the Russian Motor Racing Federation Igor Yermilin said the city council’s tourism committee chairman Grigory Antyufeyev had let Luzhkov down: “They did not inform Luzhkov properly, putting him and Ecclestone in an awkward position, It’s understandable that the mayor has now grown a bit cold to the idea of Formula One racing in Moscow.”

The future

Vitaly Petrov, GP2, 2007 | Alastair Staley / GP2 Media ServiceIt was at this time that plans first emerged to hold a race in St Petersburg at the new Pulkovoring, but little detail has emerged about them.

Ecclestone said again in 2005 that he was hopeful of a race in Russia in the near future, while he was attending the launch of the new Jordan following the team’s purchase by Russian company Midland: “It will certainly happen. We would like it to be in Moscow, or if not here then in St. Petersburg.”

Two prominent Russian drivers in the lower echelons of motor racing are GP2 race winner Vitaly Petrov, and Mikhail Aleshin, who is sponsored by Russian oil company Lukoil.

The story of the attempts to hold a Russian Grand Prix wouldn’t be complete with a little intrigue. Sergei Zlobin, a Russian racing driver who tested for Minardi in 2002, was lucky to escape with his life when a bomb exploded under his car in September last year.

Photos copyright: Midland F1 / Crash Media Group | Alastair Staley / GP2 Media Service

More on the F1 calendar

Advert | Go Ad-free

9 comments on Fresh rumours of a Russian Grand Prix

  1. I Think a race in Russia would be a great way of interest for Formula 1. The sad thing is that a new race would cause the exclusion of another (probably historic) place…

  2. Robert McKay said on 10th February 2008, 12:43

    “In February 2001 Ecclestone said: “If people behind the project keep their promise of building a modern race track in Russia in the next two to three years, then it would be a right thing to have a Formula One race in Russia within two to three years.””

    Maybe I’m jumping to conclusions, or maybe it’s a combination of other factors, but it seems to me the problem is the ORDER in which a new race is set up. It’s not a case of “sign a contract to host a Formula 1 race, and then build the track”, it’s the opposite. You have to at least start to build the track first, and then organise the hosting of the GP. Now it may well be the case that even though there is no formal agreement to host a race (before you start building) there is a verbal “nudge nudge wink wink we’ll think about it very seriously” type-attitude.

    But it still seems a heck of a risk to go and build an F1-spec track without knowing for certain it’ll hold a race. Probably why people get antsy. And I’m minded of things like Ecclestone badgering Imola to make upgrades if it wanted to regain the San Marino GP. They eventually started making those upgrades, but by that point Bernie no longer cared and they didn’t get the race anyway. Maybe they were going to make those improvements anyway, or maybe Bernie cost them a lot of money by reneging on a promise.

    I’m not really sure what is gained by this process. If Bernie signs a contract to host a race and the circuit never materialises then so what, he’s not lost any money, and can probably sue for them breaking the contract. I guess it’s just another power game thing.

  3. His goal is to get the prospective hosts to start building the circuit BEFORE they realize there’s no way to make any money, except for Bernie. That way they are in it and can’t get out. And if they default like Turkey, Bernie walks in and scoops up the track for himself at a discount.

    Why can’t I find that kind of business model to follow?

  4. Steven Roy said on 10th February 2008, 17:27

    This is the second chapter of the attacks on Melbourne and Silverstone over the last few days. It’s a standard Bernie tactic. Tell a circuit (or two) that they have to jump through hoops to get to keep their race then a couple of days later put out a press release about some fictional new circuit.

    The reason to go to Russia before was tobacco advertising which is now banned in F1 – except for Ferrari – so no-one has any need to go there – except for Ferrari.

    Since Berne is dealing with the same people he was dealing with before there is no reason to believe anything will happen.

  5. The politicians may be different, but they will probably still refuse to deal with Bernie on Bernie’s terms – something which Bernie doesn’t like. However, I think the Australian GP may have lost its place because the Indian GP will probably be taking its place…

  6. Did we see a certian russian billionaire being guided around by bernie last year at monaco? – trying to grt his support or maybe getting some advice before he bought his football team – oops nearly forgot flavio there?

  7. I have to admit, AGAIN, that I know less that 2% of what all of you know about F1 racing — but what I do know is “people”, psychology, and angles.

    What I see here is what sickens me about Ecclestone in general. This is a man who has far too much largesse to offer, and likewise, far too little character to offer it in any moral way whatsoever.

    He loves pretending the puppet-master. I do not envy him the karma sure to meet him again at some point.

    I also do not “hate” … but I dislike to a very strong extent this sort of scourge upon the human spirit.

    (grin … sorry … when I’m REALLY angry, I tend to get overly dramatic — at least when I’m not cussing a bluestreak, lol …)

  8. Angler, I can’t agree more with your feelings. A very interesting topic here, and one that inevitably brings several other GPs into the discussion.

    So Bernie wants to expand into a new market, but his insistance on keeping everything and doing it his way caused problems with the event backers? Hmmm….did Tony George call these guys and warn them in advance? The whole story reminds me of the recent happenings at Indy with the USGP- Bernie’s usual self-centered politics ruin the day for an exiting new market for F1.It just seems to me as though his stance is “Forget Silverstone, Indy and France- we’ll go wherever we get no hassles for the money we demand.”

    F1 expansion is a great thing, but Bernie has a terribly untasteful way of going about it, and it hurts fans in the markets he deserts. I assume the Russian GP idea will work if Bernie finds someone willing to give him his money, and given the sport’s expansion into the asian market and disregard for it’s traditionally strong bases, I assume it’s only a matter of time before F1 looks east once again.

  9. Steven Roy said on 11th February 2008, 14:11

    The only way he will get anywhere in Russia is if Putin decides he wants the good publicity generated by the race or if Bernie deals directly with the mafia. I would bet the last thing Putin wants is hundreds of people with direct access to the media and no reason not to speak out wandering round Moscow. So my guess would be that unless Bernie can deal with the mafia there won’t be a race.

Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments must abide by the comment policy. Comments may be moderated.
Want to post off-topic? Head to the forum.
See the FAQ for more information.