F1 Business Diary 2016: the Russian Grand Prix

Sochi saw a flurry of drama this weekend as Formula One descended on the western Russian city. With all the action on the track, it was a surprise there was any room for news off it.

Sochi saw a flurry of drama this weekend as Formula One descended on the western Russian city, with Sebastian Vettel crashing out on the first lap after a collision with Red Bull’s Daniel Kvyat, Nico Rosberg romping to victory in his Mercedes, and Lewis Hamilton powering into second after being demoted to a tenth-placed start due to engine failure in qualifying. With all the action on the track, it was a surprise there was any room for news off it.

 

Monza madness

Motorsport has, to some degree, become synonymous with certain locations in the world. Daytona is perhaps one, Le Mans another. But none align more closely than Monza does with Formula One.

The Italian Grand Prix is one of the oldest events in the sport, and Monza has been its home almost exclusively since 1922. A quiet city north of Milan, it was made famous by Formula One which firmly placed it on the sporting map.

But after the Russian Grand Prix, Formula One chief executive Bernie Ecclestone refused to confirm  that the Italian race would be a fixture in future years.

The deal for Monza to host the event is expiring soon, and it is believed that bureaucratic and political influence may put a renewal in jeopardy.

Speaking at Sochi, Ecclestone said: “This year the race is happening for sure, but for the next few years I don’t know.

“We have talked about it, but they are Italian, so we will probably only know something on the Thursday before the race,” he quipped.

Joking aside, however, the risk of losing Monza from the racing calendar looks set to loom large over the head of Formula One in the run-up to the 2016 Italian Grand Prix on 4th September.

 

Sauber’s missing stars

Sauber’s plight continues. After last month’s Chinese Grand Prix, this F1 Business Diary discussed the potential rumours of a takeover by Alfa Romeo amid unsettling financial times for the Swiss-based constructors.

Performances have also been listless, with the team a fixture in the bottom three of the constructor’s championship, and drivers Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson registering a total of zero points between them so far this season.

And in Russia this weekend, things took a turn for the worse.

Two figures were noticeable in their absence from the team paddock. Co-owner and team boss Monisha Kaltenborn failed to attend all weekend, adding pace to the rumours that the team’s financial strife may be terminal.

Even worse, perhaps, was that head of track engineering Tim Malyon suddenly departed altogether, after a mere four months in the role. Malyon was only hired after Giampaolo Dall’Ara, a 15-year veteran of Sauber, left under a cloud of unrest.

The signs don’t look good for Sauber, with financial trouble seemingly affecting both team morale and performance.

Speaking in Sochi, team manager Beat Zehnder said: “We have financial difficulties, it’s not a secret. We’re working hard to solve all the problems but it’s not easy.”

When pushed on whether the team would survive until the end of Formula One’s longest ever race calendar, Zehnder added: “I think this is a question which Monisha should answer, because I haven’t got the overall picture.”  If only she had been there to be asked it.

 

Azerbaijan safety

While Sochi’s race turned up some eye-catching action, some commentators turned their attention to the future. The next three races will be hosted in long-time venues Barcelona, Monte Carlo, and Montreal, so those looking for a talking point focused in on the 17th June meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan. It will be the first time a race has been held in Azerbaijan, and the event currently sits amid a cloud of speculation.

Recent months have seen unsettling encounters between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces in the disputed border area of Nagorno-Karabakh, a region just a few hundred miles from Baku.

Earlier this month, Azerbaijan’s government dismissed speculation that the fighting may cause issue for the June race, but unrest continues to linger.

At Sochi, Formula One decision-makers were once again quizzed on whether the race may be at risk.

An FIA spokesperson, as quoted by Tass News Agency, said: “We are confident that the grand prix is not in danger. The racing is separate to politics and we believe the situation has become less tense.”

Ecclestone echoed that sentiment, adding: “We had a similar situation in Bahrain, we are not involved in it, the F1 is not fighting anyone.”

But with two Karabkh servicemen killed this week, until war in the nation is resolved, onlookers will question the sensibility of bringing a global sporting event to a country threatened by conflict.

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