Sochi Autodrom set for action as Formula One prepares for Russia debut

On Monday, world champion Sebastian Vettel became the first man to lap the new Sochi Autodrom, the new permanent venue designed to weave around the newly constructed Olympic Park and the host, in a few weeks time, of the inaugural Russian Grand Prix.

On Monday, world champion Sebastian Vettel became the first man to lap the new Sochi Autodrom, the new permanent venue designed to weave around the newly constructed Olympic Park and the host, in a few weeks time, of the inaugural Russian Grand Prix.

Formula One’s debut in the world’s largest country is still scheduled for 12th October, despite international condemnation of Russia’s actions in Ukraine and concerns about security following the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over the Russia-Ukraine border in July.

Formula One chief executive Bernie Ecclestone negotiated and signed the Sochi race contract directly with Vladimir Putin in 2010. Like February’s winter Olympics and the 2018 Fifa World Cup, an annual Grand Prix forms part of the Russian president’s strategy to showcase the country on the world stage.

Speaking at July’s Hungarian Grand Prix, Williams’ deputy team principal Claire Williams put forward the teams’ view. “What’s going on in Russia and that part of the world at the moment is of huge concern to everybody – but we’ve always said we try to disengage from taking a political angle on these things,” she said. “Here the FIA is the governing body of our sport, they issue a calendar and we have to take our direction from them.”

Ecclestone, however, has a binding contract and is highly unlikely to countenance a postponement, while FIA race director Charlie Whiting confirmed during a visit to Sochi last week that the new venue would receive a license and is ready for action.

Vettel, incidentally, seemed impressed with the layout on Monday’s promotional visit for Red Bull Racing title sponsor Infiniti.

“This is an event of national importance,” Sergey Vorobyev told SportsPro shortly before Whiting’s final inspection. Vorobyev is the deputy general director of OJSC Center Omega, the company promoting the Russian Grand Prix. “The event has recognised supporters at all levels of the Russian government,” he continued, “so this is and will stay as one of the key sporting events in Russia. You will see from the amount of high-profile guests that will be attending the race that it will be a very, very important event for our country.”

Vorobyev expects a capacity crowd of 55,000 for the inaugural Grand Prix at the newly named Sochi Autodrom, which, despite its Olympic Park location, is a permanent venue. The pit complex and main grandstand were constructed before February’s Olympics, with the focus in the final few weeks before the event on decorating the circuit and creating the ‘look and feel’ of the event.

Of those 55,000 at October’s race, Vorobyev anticipates around a third will be Sochi residents, a third will be from Moscow and St Petersburg and a third from other Russian cities and around the world. He insists he has no concerns over security. “We will have a number of international guests and we are working very successfully on all matters of comfort for international visitors and the security and safety,” he said. “We are absolutely sure that every international guest will find the race very enjoyable.”

Vorobyev, who has a permanent staff of 135 at Sochi Autodrom, also sought to play down concerns about Russia’s suitability as a Grand Prix host, given the international political situation, arguing that “sport is divided from politics, so we don’t see the grounds for any concerns”. He added: “The Russians proved, with the Olympic Games, that Russia and the city of Sochi can host amazing, beautiful, unforgettable and safe events and it will be the same with the Formula One weekend. Every guest will enjoy it, absolutely.

“This has been an amazing journey and now we are on the final straight I am sure that all the team will continue working in order to have the event at an amazing level. There is no chance to give the first impression twice, so we will give a perfect first impression. This is the goal.”

Although he can’t yet reveal details, Vorobyev is already in negotiations with other motorsport championships about staging races at the Sochi Autodrom and says there is already high demand from corporate and private clients. “The circuit will not only be used for Formula One, it will be used all year round,” he says. “This is another positive thing about the project. Racing is here in Sochi to keep the place living and going, in parallel with the fact all the other facilities are being used for other events and the hotels are being used very actively by tourists. Altogether, it is proof that the Olympic infrastructure is being used very well.”

Share

Related content