Bernie's long-negotiated Russian affair
As Formula 1 is heading to Sochi it's just about time to recall what it actually took for him to finally add Russia into Formula 1 calendar.
It will be the 7th Russian Grand Prix and looks like Sochi has earned its well deserved place in F1 calendar. The city is popular among tourists, the organization of the event is praised properly. All looks like this place was meant to be a Russian's gateway to Formula 1. However, it wasn't always like that.
May 1914, the 'Ligovsky track' nearby St.Petersburg
Were there any racing in Soviet Union or during the days of Russian Empire? The answer is YES and i'll devote a separate article to that subject. The very first auto car racing event took place in Saint Petersburg in 1898 with track lenght of 41 kms and only 7 vehicles to participate. Among the well known brands were 'Clement' and 'De Dion Bouton'. Track record - 1h 33min, 36'; average car speed: 27,3 km/h. Those were the pioneer days before F1 but how about the time when it was all FIA regulated? See below.
The first attempts to bring Formula 1 into Soviet Union or at least to take part in it started in 1950s. It is known that the younger son of Stalin (who was a military pilot) conducted the project called 'Sokol 650'. They developed racing cars that were based on German trophy vehicles from 'Auto Union AG' and 'Mercedes'. After short testing sessions and frequent engine failures the project didn't receive any further development. Plus the racing itself at that time was widely considered as ' for bourjois and elite'.
Things gradually started to change in 1960s when the delegation of Russian Autosport Federation first visited Silverstone. It is very little known about this visit, only the fact that afterwards it was planned to build a track nearby Moscow in Tushino. The idea was too optimistic plus it required the funding of 40 mln rub which by that time was quite an enormous sum of money.
Second attempt had more chances then ever. In the 1980s the Soviet Union was run by Leonid Brezhnev, who was not indifferent towards cars in general and racing! The initial idea was suggested by (guess who?)...ofcourse the one and only Bernie Ecclestone who by that time was the President of Formula One Constructors Association. He was very serious about it. How serious? He was planning to cover all the costs and even offering Russian national driver a seat in Brabham BT49! The Grand Prix 'Behind the Iron Curtains'...It could've been a triumph! They have selected a place in 'Vorobyevy gory', included the track into 1983 calendar, but...the death of Leonid Brezhnev and the upcoming Andropov times delayed the dreams of Bernie about F1 in Russia even further.
Ecclestone with Brabham BT49
Leonid Brezhnev was well-known for his passion for cars.
The letter was left unanswered by Soviet authorities.
In 1992 few Italian enthusiasts came up with the idea...why not to organize the Grand Prix that will take place right in front of the Kremlin, nearby Moscow-river. Terms? 6 year contract, Italian side to bear all the costs, plus Moscow will partially receive the income from tickets sales. Again, date was selected - August 1993, the government even prepared a press-release, but....the Italian firm turned out to be a frauds that had no connections to Formula 1. Ecclestone was furious, to say the least..however, these scammers were slightly ahead of time. The track looks almost like any modern Formula E circuit!
Italian fraud F1 project.
After all previous failed attempts it was just a choice of St.Petersburg and Moscow. In Moscow there were doubts in between placing a track close to the city center or nearby the national airport Sheremetyevo. The majority voted for the first option. Again, very ambitious plans, a location to dream of, big opportunity for the leisure business and casino's (back then they were legal in Russia) to earn an extra dollar. Among the influencers were: Hermann Tilke and Tom Walkinshaw with his TWR group but...total project cost was $100bln and the track construction itself accounted for $100 mln. Again the negotiations were unsuccessful. The sides couldn't reach agreement on the future earnings. According to the former mayor of Moscow Luzhkov 'Bernie wanted all the profits', while Ecclestone thought it was Walkinshaw to be blamed in the failed outcome of project.
Slight similarities with A1 Ring?
Tom Walkinshaw with some Russian businessmen.
The sides have returned to the negotiations in 2008, this time it was St.Petersburg to be seriously considered as a city to host Formula 1. Two locations were approved Krestovsky island and Pulkovo. Second was even praised by Vladimir Putin but...sadly Russian authorities were expecting the scheme from 1983 when Bernie suggested to pay for everything by himself, yet as 2008 his offer was different. Totally different 'City pays for the track, construction, event organization and all the other bearing costs'.
Other possible projects. By the way, do you recognize this man in a fury coat? Exactly, that's mr.Mosley himself during his visit to Moscow in 1994
Nevertheless in 2010 the contract with Russia was finally signed and despite all the doubts whether it was possible to hold the event right after the Winter Olympics in Sochi, the timing was just right and as of now track already proved to be a massive success. What's the future holds for it? We'll see.