MOSCOW: Russia could host its first ever Forumla 1 Grand Prix in 2012 – but there’s confusion over where it will happen.
At Sunday’s Moscow City Racing show, the pre-race interest focused on the prospect of bringing Monte Carlo-style street racing to the Russian capital in an official capacity, building on the massive success of three years of staged shows around the Kremlin walls.
City Hall’s Vladimir Makarov said there were advanced plans for a 4,420 metre route through the city centre, allowing for speeds of up to 320 kph, with German design guru Hermann Tilke creating what would be the fastest urban circuit together.
And Derk Sauer, the director of Moscow City Racing, believes that the dream of a Russian Grand Prix is close to seeing the chequered flag.
“We’re getting closer,” he told journalists before Sunday’s event. “This country deserves F1, and F1 deserves Russia.
“It’s not done yet, but we’re getting closer every year.”
This plan would seem to push Tilke’s proposed Podmoskovye track into the pit lane for good. Although impressive designs were drawn up for the site at Volokolamsk in 2008, little concrete progress has been made and a glamourous circuit through the centre of Moscow would be a far bigger draw for F1.
Even the notoriously poor state of Russia’s roads won’t be an obstacle, according to current World Champion Jenson Button.
Speaking at the Moscow City Racing event, he said the roads he’d seen in Moscow had been “pretty smooth” – albeit from the back of a chauffeur-driven Mercedes S-Class.
“Driving an F1 car around streets is a different experience,” he added. “Circuits designed for racing are very smooth and the cars sit very low on them. Here we have to raise the cars, like we do in Monaco, Singapore and Valencia, but you always feel a few little bumps.
“The excitement of racing in the streets is completely different from racing at a prepared circuit.”
But there could be competition from Sochi, with F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone reportedly telling the Independent newspaper in Britain that the Black Sea resort is the more likely venue for Russia’s racing debut.
True to his traditions, the shortest Mr Big in world sport rallied against the diminutive payments received from certain long-established venues – notably Monaco, long regarded as Grand Prix’s glamour card – and suggested the rights to hold one of the 20 races each year would be sold off to the highest bidder.
With a massive influx of funding into Sochi ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics, that could make them a serious rival to the capital.
While it now seems likely that Russia will be on the starting grid in a couple of years, the fate of Russia’s only racer, Vitaly Petrov, is less clear.
In his debut season at Renault the “Vyborg Rocket” has failed to take off, managing a meagre six points in his first 10 races.
The noises coming from Renault boss Eric Bouiller suggest that although Petrov is “the best prospect in the paddock” he still has some way to go.
“It’s literally in his own hands,” Bouiller said, according to pitpass.com. “He’s clearly lacking the consistency to get the points he deserves.”
Petrov himself was in Moscow to take part in the City Racing event and said: “I’m a newbie this year and we have to understand that [team mate] Robert Kubica has been in Formula 1 for five years.
“It’s hard for me to make a real challenge to Jensen and other racers who’ve been here for years. I’ve had a lot to learn.
“There have been some positives and some negatives but I’m looking forward and expecting some innovations in the car.
“As for next year, that’s all in hand and the talks will be held later.”