16th May 2012
“Look, you’ve got to start thinking commercially. We’re in Brazil, we’re going to Russia, we race in India and we’ll always go to China”.
Formula 1 commercial rights controller Bernie Ecclestone is addressing one of my media centre colleagues on the way it is and the way it will be for F1 2012 and beyond.
As any follower of world economics and the geopolitical map will know, the BRIC nations enumerated above are where it’s at right now and Bernie and his financial backers want a piece of the substantial financial pie.
Since F1 is now well-established in three of the BRIC nations, Russia represents the final destination to complete the set. 2014 is the target. An October 2010 deal was signed, sealed and delivered in the presence of then Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, confirming a multi–year deal for a grand prix near the Black Sea coastal town (and 2014 Winter Olympic Games venue) of Sochi.
Sometimes described as a dilapidated Soviet-era resort, Sochi is 1,360km from Moscow, was favoured by Josef Stalin and therefore feted by Russia’s political elite. But the pressure is mounting to get the town ready for the sporting world’s attention.
Only last week, newly sworn-in Russian President Putin warned private contractors building the Olympic facilities they’d better complete the project on time and on budget – or else.
Why is this important to Formula 1?
Well, the planned 5.5km track is set to race around the Olympic village. And with allegations that cheaper (and inferior) materials than should otherwise be used are being employed in the construction of Sochi’s winter Olympic venues, alarm bells should be ringing in the offices of both FOM and the FIA.
The town (until recently boasting one bumpy road from the beachside sanatoriums) is scheduled to be connected to the outside world by a high-speed rail line and a two-lane highway by 2014. But with the highway alone having a projected cost of 227bn rubles ($7.5bn), the budget would allow the contractors – state-owned Russian Railways – to cover the road with a layer of Beluga black caviar 1.1cm thick, according to the Russian edition of Esquire magazine.
To protect their own event from being interfered with by the F1 preparations, the International Olympic Committee obtained an escape clause that could lead to the grand prix being postponed until 2015, not an outcome Ecclestone will relish. F1 paddock rumours have it that the Russian Grand Prix contract is by far the most lucrative yet, eclipsing by some margin any of the mega–million-dollar deals in recent years for races in China, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi.
With European economies rapidly falling apart – Spain is hosting only one race from 2013 onwards and newly socialist France has dismissed any notions of resurrecting its grand prix – the way is clear for the ‘monied’ nations to buy all the races they want.
Even so, it remains to be seen if we do make our way to the self-proclaimed ‘longest city in Europe’ in 2014 – but I’m not booking my flights to Russia’s summer capital just yet.
Who knows when we’ll see this final BRIC form part of the wall?
Please now take a few minutes to enjoy my pictures from the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix by clicking here.
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