Talk of a Formula 1 race in Russia goes back so many years that no-one really takes it seriously any longer. The first such discussions took place back in the early 1980s when, legend has it, Bernie Ecclestone had meetings with a number of top level Soviet officials, including President Leonid Brezhnev. These failed to produce a Grand Prix and so Ecclestone did a deal for a race in Budapest.
By the late 1980s there was much dissatisfaction with the Soviet government and the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev resulted in more liberal political and economic policies, notably glasnost and perestroika. This resulted in the beginning of the breakdown of the Soviet system and more freedom of speech and the weakening of the old Communist Bloc, leading to the the wave of revolutions in 1989 when the Berlin Wall was torn down and there was upheaval across Eastern Europe. This was followed in August 1991 by a coup d’état against Gorbachev. Boris Yeltsin seized the moment and defeated the coup, putting a much weakened Gorbachev back in office. By the end of the year the Soviet Union was dissolved and Yeltin emerged as head of the Russian Federation. It was not long before Ecclestone was back, trying to establish a Grand Prix but the instability of the era made things difficult as Yeltsin became an autocrat and a group of “oligarchs” took over many of the nation’s industries. It was not until 2000 that Yeltsin handed over power to Vladimir Putin. There was a further attempt to stage a race in Moscow, led by Tom Walkinshaw, but this failed. In recent years there have been various other projects but all have failed to get off the ground.
Earlier this summer Vladimir Makarov, a close ally of Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov, said that Moscow is preparing plans for a street track, but much depends on next year’s mayoral election in which Luzhkov might be voted out of office, after 18 years in control of the city. He has been damaged by a number of corruption allegations.
For the last three years there has been a Formula 1 demonstration in Moscow, organised by the Dutch promoter Bavaria City Racing. This year the event claimed a crowd of 200,000.
There was also another project under discussion in Sochi, a celebrated Black Sea resort city, but the talks appear to have stalled as there was no money for the race. Having Vitaly Petrov in F1 will obviously help the situation, but there will not be a Russian Grand Prix until someone is wiling to pay the bills.