IS RUS­SIA READY FOR F1?

The in­fra­struc­ture is in place, the fi­nal ad­just­ments are be­ing made, and FIA race di­rec­tor Charlie Whit­ing has given the Sochi Au­to­drom the seal of ap­proval. But while the Rus­sian GP or­gan­is­ers in­sist the F1 venue is ready, what will Rus­sia it­self make o

F1 Racing - - CONTENTS - WORDS JAMES ROBERTS PIC­TURES MAL­COLM GRIF­FITHS/LAT

As the count­down be­gins to the first Rus­sian GP in 100 years, the track looks ready… but the lo­cals seem un­sure

There is a Western per­cep­tion of Rus­sia that it is icy cold, dan­ger­ous and ob­du­rate. And yet in the coastal re­sort of Sochi the re­al­ity is the op­po­site. This vi­brant, mod­ern town will host the rst ever grand prix on Rus­sian soil this Oc­to­ber, and it doesn’t con­form to any of the stereo­typ­ing you as­so­ciate with the for­mer Soviet state. It’s warm, hu­mid and ver­dant, and the in­hab­i­tants and hol­i­day­mak­ers milling on the Black Sea har­bour front are cour­te­ous, friendly and peace­ful. Liv­ing in or vis­it­ing Sochi, you don’t get the im­me­di­ate sense that this is a coun­try cur­rently em­broiled in neigh­bour­ing Ukraine’s po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary cri­sis. After do­ing such a bril­liant job of host­ing the Win­ter Olympics, this venue is now ready to put on a spec­tac­u­lar, well-fi­nanced grand prix the Rus­sian peo­ple can be proud of. The only prob­lem is that so few of them have ac­tu­ally heard of For­mula 1…

THE SCALE OF THE con­struc­tion project in and around Sochi for the Win­ter Olympic Games has been enor­mous, run­ning into many bil­lions of rubles. There’s a new air­port, and new roads and train lines to take peo­ple from the cen­tre of Sochi to the Olympic Park, 18 miles away. It’s here that the newly built grand prix cir­cuit winds around the ve big sta­di­ums that hosted the Win­ter Games. There is also a new train sta­tion at the Kras­naya Polyana ski re­sort, just half an hour away. From there, you can take a cable car to the 2,300-me­tre Rosa Khutor sum­mit, the start of the men’s down­hill Olympic course, with spec­tac­u­lar views across the Aibga ridge in the Cau­ca­sus moun­tain range. This is a near per­fect leisure re­sort; after ski­ing in the morn­ing, you can eas­ily re­turn to the warm sun­shine of the Black Sea beaches that af­ter­noon. The south­ern Krasnodar Krai re­gion lies on the same lat­i­tude as the south of France, and as the south­ern­most tip of Rus­sia its cli­mate at sea level is tem­per­ate all year round. The moun­tains pro­tect it from the harsh win­ter and the Black Sea breeze brings hu­mid­ity. In the last cen­tury, Sochi was famed for its min­eral springs and the heal­ing pow­ers of its wa­ters. At one point, there were over 100 sana­to­ri­ums here for Rus­sians to con­va­lesce in. Stalin had a hol­i­day home (now a ho­tel) here, and, to­day, a city of 400,000 in­hab­i­tants is vis­ited by two mil­lion tourists each sum­mer. Sochi it­self stretches from the Ge­or­gian bor­der in the south for 90 miles along the Black Sea coast – a view you can ad­mire after a seven-mile drive to the tower built at the top of the 600-me­tre Mount Akhun. One prob­lem cre­ated by its po­si­tion­ing be­tween moun­tains and sea is that Sochi is not eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble. Cur­rently, the only way to con­nect from western Europe is via Istanbul or Moscow – and it’s a three-hour ight from each of those hubs. Mind­ful of this, how­ever, the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment is set to ap­prove an ‘open sky’ pol­icy to link Sochi di­rectly to the West. At the Olympic Park, a ho­tel and roller

coast­ers have been built be­tween Turn 1 and the shore­line. And the dy­namic-look­ing Olympic venues are still be­ing used to host the likes of mu­si­cal ice shows and in­ter­na­tional business con­fer­ences, and will host fu­ture sport­ing tour­na­ments in­clud­ing the 2018 FIFA World Cup. It’s a nat­u­ral t for the com­plex to in­clude a state-of-the-art For­mula 1 cir­cuit for the next six years. As 25-year-old Sergey Vorobyev, the pro­moter for the Rus­sian GP, ex­plains: “We have a new air­port, new roads, tens of thou­sands of rooms in new ho­tels, and all of th­ese things need to be used after the Olympics. To keep Sochi at an in­ter­na­tional level it made sense to have a ma­jor event such as For­mula 1 here. The place is be­com­ing more popular with tourists, the city is de­vel­op­ing and be­com­ing more open and, in time, we will have more in­ter­na­tional air­lines ying to Sochi, too.” Work on the 3.6-mile cir­cuit was sus­pended last De­cem­ber for the du­ra­tion of the Win­ter Games, but the gov­ern­ment-backed project be­gan again in the spring. The FIA’s race di­rec­tor Charlie Whit­ing gave the track the thumbs up dur­ing his two vis­its in July and Au­gust (and conrmed the lo­ca­tion of the two DRS zones), and with con­struc­tion vir­tu­ally com­plete, the venue should be ready with time to spare. “It’s a high-qual­ity track. It’s clear that ev­ery­thing has been done re­ally well,” said Whit­ing on his last visit to Sochi. “It will be a fast track, and I think there will be at least two or three places where driv­ers can over­take prop­erly: Turn 2, Turn 13 and pos­si­bly in Turn 17.” Walk­ing around the cir­cuit, two things im­me­di­ately stand out. The spec­tac­u­lar Turn 4, a seem­ingly never-end­ing long-ra­dius left­hander that builds in speed, with just three lay­ers of Tecpro bar­ri­ers as run-off. And a tricky point-and-squirt end to the lap, with built-in el­e­va­tion and off-camber apexes to test the driv­ers. Given the venue’s limited space, Her­mann Tilke has done a de­cent job. The nal layer of Tar­mac was ap­plied to the cir­cuit just be­fore F1 Rac­ing’s visit in Au­gust, and the work be­ing car­ried out in the pits, pad­dock and main grand­stands – wiring electrics, sand­ing and pol­ish­ing rail­ings and tting es­ca­la­tors – rep­re­sented the nal touches. The 10,800-ca­pac­ity main grand­stand – with VIP lounges on the third and fth oors – was vir­tu­ally com­plete, with tem­po­rary grand­stands for other cor­ners still to be erected. In to­tal the ca­pac­ity for the in­au­gu­ral race in Oc­to­ber will be 55,000 and al­ready more than 50 per cent of the tick­ets have been sold, with the or­gan­is­ers ex­pect­ing the race to sell out com­pletely. Gen­eral ad­mis­sion tick­ets for three days are priced at 5,000 rubles or £85, and grand­stand seats will cost 11,000 rubles or £190. But as turned out to be the case in In­dia, South Korea and Turkey, build­ing a grand prix cir­cuit doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean lo­cals will come. Of the peo­ple F1 Rac­ing spoke to in Sochi, only a few knew any­thing at all about For­mula 1 (see side­bars). Those who did were aware of the name Michael Schu­macher – but none of them had heard of up-and-com­ing home-grown tal­ent Daniil Kvyat. “We need to ed­u­cate peo­ple and this is what we are work­ing on now,” says Vorobyev. “Over the past few years, mo­tor­sport has been de­vel­op­ing in Rus­sia and we’ve had more in­ter­na­tional races be­ing held at the Moscow Race­way. So we’re happy it’ll work. We are happy with ticket sales and are 100 per cent sure the event will be a sell-out. We also have Daniil Kvyat – he is per­form­ing very well – and I’m sure that each year we’ll have more and more peo­ple vis­it­ing the For­mula 1 race.”

Sochi’s cli­mate at sea level is tem­per­ate all year round. The moun­tains pro­tect it from the harsh win­ter and the Black Sea breeze brings hu­mid­ity”

In­vest­ment into the project and the re­gion has been huge, £125 mil­lion has been quoted for just the F1 track. Sochi lo­cals have seen their home trans­formed over the past few years and, speak­ing from his of­fice over­look­ing the pits and pad­dock, young Vorobyev is ab­so­lutely condent the race will be a suc­cess (see ‘F1 In­sider’, p18). The con­tin­u­ing tur­moil in the east of Ukraine and the Crimea are not, Vorobyev in­sists, go­ing to desta­bilise the run­ning of the event, de­spite the con­cerns of those in the West. “Sport is one thing, pol­i­tics another,” he states, when asked if there have been con­cerns at home over Sochi’s host­ing of the event. “We have ab­so­lute support for the event from lo­cal gov­ern­ment, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment and the deputy prime min­is­ter, and we have a con­tract with Mr Ec­cle­stone that we have to re­spect.” Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin was a vis­i­ble gure dur­ing the Win­ter Games and it’s ob­vi­ously in his in­ter­est to be a prom­i­nent gure again when F1 vis­its his coun­try. “And he’s driven an F1 car,” adds Vorobyev. “He’s quick, he’s a su­per leader and we 100 per cent re­spect him. He stood be­hind us when the deal for the con­tract was signed, so we ex­pect him at the event.” Once again, the per­cep­tion in the West is clearly not the same view as that in Rus­sia. But when F1 vis­its in Oc­to­ber, it will open peo­ple’s eyes – if they want to look.

Work at the £125m Sochi cir­cuit will be pretty much com­plete ahead of sched­ule. As F1 Rac­ing went to press, it was about to host its first race – a Rus­sian Tour­ing Car cham­pi­onship round on 14 Septem­ber

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