This weekend will see the world of Formula One descend on Sochi, the 2014 Winter Olympics destination that nestles at the edge of the Black Sea, for the 2015 Russian Formula One Grand Prix. After its debut on the F1 calendar in 2014, the Sochi Autodrom circuit, a 5.848 kilometre track newly built in 2014, will once again play host and with home interest growing, Sergey Vorobyev, the deputy general director of OJSC “Center “Omega” and promoter of the Russian GP, believes the race has a bright future.
SP: How are you going to build on last year’s race and how will you assess the success of this year’s race?
Apart from being awarded with the Formula One 2014 Race Promoters’ Trophy we have had a level of national awards for the Sochi Grand Prix. We have had customer surveys which have shown the very top level of customer satisfaction in terms of spectators and our client groups, and we are working on the small details to make the event even better. We are improving the food and beverage services, the range of merchandise and ensuring that, from the spectator point of view, the event will just be amazing. And with Daniil Kvyat now being at the top in F1 – he is showing great results – we now have a local hero. And to a major extent due to this fact we have already exceeded the sales numbers of last year, which is quite unusual, as typically for Formula One Grands Prix there is a so-called ‘second year problem’ – when ticket sales for the second year are lower than for the first one. But now we have reversed this scenario and we are very happy with how the preparations are going and with the interest that Formula One is attracting all over Russia.
What are the chances of the race being held at night?
We are doing the calculations and I am sure that one year, not now but maybe in 2017, that we will have the night race. This requires some technical investment and some additional operational spend and for the Grands Prix in 2015 and 2016 our plan is to bring in enough to money to cover these additional operational expenses. So when we figure out how to make enough money to have a night race we are sure that this will attract an even greater audience. So I am very positive that the night race will happen, not now but before 2020 and no earlier than 2017.
Will the race move to a date in May for next year?
Yes and we are very happy about that. We have been informed that’s in the Formula One calendar, which will officially be approved in December, but we are counting on our dates to be approved and we have no doubt that it will happen. So we will have the 2016 Formula One Russian Grand Prix on 1st May. For the local audiences this is an amazing gift because 1st May marks the start of a long holiday – some people take five days off from work, or the whole ten days, and so they will have a good chance to visit Sochi and the Grand Prix and to ski in the mountains, as the ski season here is over around 20th May. So there is a very high, almost 100 per cent chance that people will still be able to ski right after the Formula One sessions which is amazing. So this date is very good for us. We have been aiming at a May date for quite a long time and we are happy that it looks like we are finally getting it for 2016.
And this date will encourage even more people to attend the race?
Yes, no doubt. We have already planned to increase the seating capacity for 2016 and we will deliver on that.
The Sochi Autodrom circuit runs around the Sochi Olympic Park.
Do you see the new European Grand Prix set to be held in Baku from 2016 as a threat to your race?
Absolutely not. It is a good thing that motorsports in general; and Formula One in particular, is developing in the region. Definitely we ourselves will travel to Baku for the very first event and we are sure that some of the new F1 fans which have appeared in Russia due the commencement of the Sochi Grand Prix will travel to Baku as well. This is great as this gives a huge chance for the audience to be naturally increasing over our region and this is just great for us.
Do you think that the corporate world in Russia is starting to wake up to F1 and get involved? And if not what needs to be done to ensure that?
Yes, already we have sold more corporate lounges than we did last year. This year we are partners with a number of corporate businesses which also shows the interest from the corporate world.
Is that an area that you will continue to push?
Yes certainly. Corporate sales in terms of lounges and general seat sales is not more than 20 per cent, but still this is a very lucrative market with a huge potential and we are targeting that market also for the general increase of the capacity of the event. So we are working on this and it shows that that’s the right idea.
How are doing filling out the rest of the calendar for the track?
So we are very happy with the decision to leave the track permanent and counting the sporting and corporate events, it’s had more than 70 over less than a year and the rest of the time it is used for customer experiences: race track days, racing schools and so on, and these things are hugely popular in Sochi now. These are of huge interest to the tourists coming to Sochi. So the track itself is in a good business position.
Russian President Vladimir Putin greets F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone at the race in 2014.
There have been reports of financial difficulties surrounding the race – could you explain the situation regarding this?
The event itself does require a significant amount of investment, but the financial status and financial future of the event is very secure. We are confident that the 2015 and 2016 events are fully secured and the further events will also be funded up to the necessary extent. We are just back from meetings with Bernie Ecclestone at the Belgian Grand Prix, and we discussed the extension of the contract for beyond 2020 and this shows that we are sure that the long-term future of the Russian Formula One Grand Prix is very bright and stable.
And will president Putin be attending this year?
This is not formally confirmed. We don’t know and we will only be given short notice, but he awarded the first prize to the winner of the 2014 Russian Grand Prix and he did enjoy visiting then so we hope to see him again this year.