F1 Business Diary 2015: the Russian Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton insisted the 2015 title is not won yet despite putting himself on the brink of the championship with another commanding win in Russia.

Lewis Hamilton insisted the 2015 title is not won yet despite putting himself on the brink of the championship with another commanding win in Russia. The Mercedes driver sealed a dominant victory in an action-packed race at the Sochi Autodrom to make it nine Grand Prix wins this year and put him on the verge of joining the likes of Jackie Stewart and Ayrton Senna as a three-time world champion with four races remaining.

Victory for Hamilton, who unknowingly doused Vladimir Putin in champagne on the podium, also confirmed a second successive constructors’ championship for Mercedes, who claimed this year’s title despite losing Nico Rosberg early in Sunday’s race due to throttle problems.

No second-race syndrome

Inclement weather and an unfortunate oil spill during the first day of practice aside, it was another successful year in Formula One for the Sochi Autodrom, the street circuit built last year to host Russia’s annual Grand Prix. After a sell-out debut in 2014, this year’s edition once again demonstrated that the appetite for motorsport is growing in Russia despite fears the country’s economic woes had taken their toll on the race.

Earlier this year reports emerged suggesting the Russian Grand Prix was in danger of going bust, with organisers needing a 64 million euro bailout from the government in Moscow to ensure this year’s edition went ahead.

“The event itself does require a significant amount of investment, but the financial status and financial future of the event is very secure,” Sergey Vorobyev, the deputy general director of promoter OJSC Center Omega, told SportsPro ahead of this year’s race.

“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.”

One fillip for the organisers is that the Russian GP will have a new date in next year’s F1 calendar. The race is set to be brought forward to 1st May when many Russians begin a national holiday, with organisers hopeful the move will bring increased attendances to the race.

“This date is very good for us,” said Vorobyev. “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.”

The Russian organisers have also stated their intention to hold a night race in future in a bid to emulate the success of Singapore’s annual floodlit spectacle. That plan is said to have the backing of Bernie Ecclestone since staging the race at dusk would put it in a primetime slot on European television.

“In Sochi, the incredible sunsets and the stunning artificial lighting of the circuit will ensure any night or twilight race will look great,” Vorobyev told the BBC.

Into the groove

Pirelli’s run as Formula One’s exclusive tyre supplier has been extended until 2019 after the company agreed terms on a new four-year deal with Bernie Ecclestone in the build-up to Sunday’s race. Ecclestone shook hands with the Italian company’s chairman and chief executive Marco Tronchetti Provera live on air on the grid as he made the announcement.

Pirelli, Formula One’s tyre supplier since 2011, when it replaced Bridgestone, managed to fend off reported interest from Michelin to extend the contract, which was due to expire at the end of this season.

“A commercial agreement has been found with FOM (Formula One Management),” said Pirelli chief Paul Hembery. “There is still the formal process to go through with the World Council but we have been approved technically by the FIA and that is the first phase of the tender process.

“There will be a bit of contract writing to do, which will keep the lawyers busy for a little while, and then we have another four years in front of us.”

The new deal has been agreed despite Pirelli being the subject of scathing criticism from the likes of Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel, both of whom suffered high-speed blow-outs this year. Clearly a bit of bad PR is not enough to deter a tyre company from a lucrative association with the global platform.

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