F1 Business Diary 2014: the Russian Grand Prix

The first Russian Grand Prix was attended by Vladimir Putin and won by Lewis Hamilton. Sochi staged a solid debut race, but the thoughts of everyone involved in the sport remained with Jules Bianchi.

As the sport rolled into Russia for the first time, pitching up at Sochi's vast Olympic Park on the Black Sea coast, Jules Bianchi remained on the mind of everyone involved in, or simply a fan of, Formula One.

The Frenchman remains critically injured after his shocking collision with a recovery vehicle at the end of the Japanese Grand Prix a week ago. Immense credit must go to the Marussia team, who have dealt with an almost-unimaginable circumstance with great dignity, particularly sporting director Graeme Lowdon who faced the cameras in Sochi while team principal John Booth remained in Japan at Bianchi’s bedside. The team ran a single car, for Max Chilton, in Sochi.

World motorsport's governing body presented its findings from its initial investigation into the accident on Friday, at a press conference attended by race director Charlie Whiting and FIA president Jean Todt. New safety measures, notably a system which automatically slows cars as they approach yellow flag zones, will be trialled during practice for the next Grand Prix in the United States. It appears to be a measured response to an awful incident. Former Formula One driver Emanuele Pirro attended last week's Sportel sports broadcast rights event in Monaco and told SportsPro the “chain of events” which led to the accident must be carefully analysed. “Like winning a lottery, you need to guess not only one number but five or seven,” said Pirro, a former Le Mans winner who has acted as driver steward at several Grand Prix in recent seasons. “When you are judging or evaluating an episode, you have to take into account all of this and not only the consequences, because poor Jules – the real bad thing is he hit a crane,” Pirro added. “If he was one metre to the right hand side he would have missed, which would have had to be investigated and looked at but no panic at all. If you go back in history, I can tell you so many times – and people don’t even realise on television – I have been so close to having a disaster and just by a fraction it doesn’t happen. I don’t like all this emotional speculation. Sometimes, small mistakes lead to big consequences and, thank God, often big mistakes lead to mild, if not zero consequences.” Forza Jules.

Putin on a show

Formula One is just one element of a winter Olympics legacy plan in Sochi which also includes hosting matches in the 2018 Fifa World Cup and next year's SportAccord conference, but it was still no surprise to see Vladimir Putin front and centre on Sunday afternoon. Indeed, Formula One’s television cameras appeared to have a near-magnetic attraction to the Russian president, with lingering shots covering his arrival in the car park, his chat in the grandstand with Bernie Ecclestone and then his decidedly awkward appearance in the drivers' room prior to the podium where Ecclestone, a man who usually leaves the circuit well before the end of a race, introduced him to Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Valtteri Bottas. Putin, of course, handed Hamilton his winner's trophy a few minutes later, before departing quickly enough to avoid a champagne shower. Formula One gave Putin special treatment – no world leader attending a race has been pandered to as he was.  The drivers, who gathered at the front of the grid for their own moment of support for their stricken colleague Bianchi in the minutes before the race, found themselves obliged to stand, in total silence, for the Russian anthem, following an edict from Formula One Management the previous evening. This was an awkward moment, even for a sport which persists with the hoary old line that sport is entirely separate from politics. When you race at a venue funded largely by the government and stage an event which is used at least in part as an act of grandstanding on the world stage, sport is politics. In a perverse way, Formula One might get more credit if it just admitted as much, instead of continually playing up its supposed political neutrality.

Baku’s street circuit unveiled

The next country to discover Formula One as a means of generating soft power will be Azerbaijan, which hosted Ecclestone last Wednesday to unveil the street circuit in its capital Baku that will host its first Grand Prix in 2016. The race will be known as the European Grand Prix, with Azerbaijan keen to position itself as part of Europe – its previous biggest event was the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest, while next year it is poised to host the inuagural European Games multi-sport event. Ecclestone has signed the race agreement directly with the government and Azerbaijan's minister of youth and sport Azad Rahimov said: “Our brief to Tilke Engineering was simple – create a circuit that is unique, one that will help the Grand Prix in Baku quickly establish itself as one of the most exciting, thrilling venues on the F1 calendar, and one that the fans and teams alike are excited about.” Hermann Tilke, effectively Formula One's designer-in-chief, was also on hand and gave a flavour of what is planned when he added: “We have been able to incorporate some unique features that will provide the teams and fans with fascinating racing. For example, there will be an extremely narrow uphill section at the old town wall that will reward pinpoint accuracy and courage, and we have an acceleration section of almost 2.2 kilometres along the promenade which will see the cars running flat out at very high top speeds – something that will create an incredible spectacle for the race fans on track and the viewers at home.”

Fast food

Lewis Hamilton has demonstrated his hunger for the Formula One world championship over the past four races, but what of those of us watching the final three races? The Formula One business diary asked George Dudley, head chef at London eatery the Fox and Anchor and author of the highly-recommended Splendid Red Trousers blog, to delve into his big book of recipes to prepare a US Grand Prix-flavoured feast:

Sunday is a day designed for few achievements; recovery, gourmand eating, and watching sport. I can't help you with the hangover but I can help you create a bale full of food that will make you feel you were almost at the event. In three weeks there will be no better place to be than in Texas, for the American Grand Prix.
This Formula One season is a battle of attrition and skill, with many spicy battles between the combative Rosberg and Hamilton; so it is only apt to cook and dine in such a manner. Short of sitting under the beating Texan sun with a grilled squirrel sandwich and chatting with the good ole boys from Austin, the only way to watch the race is on the sofa nibbling on Texan specialties.

JDBBQ ribs with chilli sweetcorn pancakes
Ingredients – feeds four
For the ribs; 1 whole rack of pork ribs; Cumin powder; Jack Daniels; BBQ sauce
For the pancakes; 350g frozen sweetcorn; 1 fresh red chilli; 150ml milk; 1 whole egg; 1tbsp of baking powder; 100g plain flour

Like a Grand Prix weekend, this meal is best created over three days, so why not start cooking during the practice sessions on Friday and finish just before the race starts.

During the practice sessions marinade the ribs in a cup of Jack Daniel's. Put in the fridge overnight.

Before qualifying begins remove the ribs and dry rub them in cumin. Mix the JD with BBQ sauce and daub half of it onto the ribs. Keep the remaining sauce. Wrap the ribs in tin foil and put back in the fridge.

With an 8pm GMT start, you have the day to yourself. About 3 1/2 hours before the start of the race, pop the ribs – still wrapped in the foil – into the oven at 150c for three hours. Dice the chilli as small as you can and put to one side. Cook the sweetcorn in boiling salted water for five minutes. Drain. Put all of the pancake ingredients into a magimix. Once sufficiently blended into a batter, pop the mixture into the fridge.
You now have time to watch the build up and put on your replica Lewis Hamilton jumpsuit. Wrench yourself away from David Coulthard's predictions, remove the ribs and slather on the remaining BBQ-JD. Raise the temperature to 180c and return the ribs to the oven.
Meanwhile, heat a frying pan on the hob. Drizzle with oil. Allowing two tablespoons per pancake – it should be the circumference of a standard coffee mug once it lands in the pan. You will know it is time to flip them when small air bubbles appear on the top. Turn and cook for a further 45 seconds.
About 10 minutes before the race starts, put everything on a wooden board or large plate, put on your Stetson and present your dish to those who have already starting on the beer. Serve with a side of 'slaw or for Rosberg fans a jar of sauerkraut. Enjoy with American bottled beer and if the racing gets wheel to wheel again, don't hesitate to reach for a nip of Jack.


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