Williams and Kazakhstan

Back in 2006 there was talk of the Republic of Kazakhstan planning to build an international standard racing circuit, in order to make a bid for a Formula 1 Grand Prix. A Kazakh government minister visited the Malaysian GP and talked about plans for a circuit next to the capital Astana’s international airport, which was aiming to become a major international hub.

That did not happen.

The country, the largest of the former Soviet republics, excluding Russia itself, has huge oil and gas reserves and a flourishing mining industry. These have created solid growth particularly since the completion of the CPC pipeline that runs from Kazakhstan to the Russian port of Novorossiysk on the Black Sea, from where the oil can be shipped around the world in tankers. The country was hit by the global recession but is recovering fast, although the government is keen to diversify as quickly as possible and is aiming to create new industries in pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, petrochemicals and food processing. The country, which has a population of around 18 million, has been under the control of Nursultan Nazarbayev since 1991. It has been trying to brush up its international image and has identified tourism as a potential source of revenues and sport as a way to unite the country and to win a good international reputation. Kazakhstan has invested heavily in sport and last summer sent 115 athletes to the London Olympics, winning four gold medals in weightlifting, plus three others in cycling, athletics and boxing. The development of tourism has been slow but Astana will host Expo 2017, which will provide more opportunities. There is certainly room for growth. Last year there were more than 500,000 tourists visiting Astana, but 405,400 of them were domestic travellers and only 117,500 came from aboard.

This year a new Astana Presidential Professional Sports Club has been established to integrate all of Kazakhstan’s leading sports projects. It administers cycling, basketball, football, hockey, boxing, car racing, polo and water-polo under the single Astana brand name in an effort to promote them more efficiently in the global markets. In motor racing terms this process began in 2011 when Artur Ardavichus entered the Dakar Rally in an Astana-sponsored Kamaz truck. He finished eighth and in 2012 improved to third. Astana also sponsored Daniel Juncadella’s successful Formula 3 European programme last year.

Williams is now going to carry sponsorship from Astana. It may be only a small amount of coverage but it is an interesting new sponsor.

26 thoughts on “Williams and Kazakhstan

      1. 🙂 – I am just wondering, what with Cycling having lost a bit of it glamour lately (Armstrong, and even a bit of scandal rumours around that cycling gold), it can only be a positive for F1 that the country is looking into F1 again.
        And Williams might have found the potential country to take over from Venezuela if/when that deal comes to an end

  1. Whatever happened to the “Kazakhstan Motorcity” project near Almaty? That was a Tilke project if I recall.

  2. Joe
    I feel sorry that, while writing about the Kazakhs last success during the Olympics in boxing, you forgot to mention the huge scandal about that country actualy buying the judges.
    Here in France, there has been a great report about the International Boxing federation, being corrupted by Kazakhs, and that was really interseting. The fights were rigged so the Kazakhs could win medals, it has been proven and testified.

    You may also note that there is absolutly no democraty in this country, and that president Nazarbayev doesn’t appreciate free elections.
    During last elections, the other 8 competitors spent there time on TV explaining how great was the president, and guess what ? He was elected by more then 98%.

    Just like the old times in good old USSR, and you are old enough to understand what I mean, including good old cult of personality in every media.
    In fact, that country is side ti side with North Korea about dictatorship, political prisoners, free media, and so on.

    Joe, you are a great source of information for us, F1 fans, and I read you with great pleasure and interest for years. You keep us informed about the problems of Force India, even if, as far as we can see, the team is performing well so far in the season.

    So, if I may ask, why are you so discreet about Kazakhstan ?

    Sorry for my poor English !

    1. Because I did not know about the boxing scandal. The fact that the government needs to brush up its image is a hint about the political situation.

    2. You make me smile Arnaud…, so typically French. First look at what others are doing wrong and ponitficate about it whilst taking the moral high ground. I don’t suppose we should talk about the Tour de France and the fantastic example it sets in terms of fair sport should we? Or should we talk about the ethics of the political class in France and the great example they set?

    3. I’m sure if you looked hard enough (and not very far in other cases) you would find a sports scandal in pretty much every country.

  3. Isn’t it Kazakhstan that has for decades been ruled by a despotic dwarfish egomaniac billionaire with a trophy wife and a comical haircut? Somehow I fail to see how it could possibly have anything in common with Formula 1.

    1. No, that’s Turkmenistan. Still, all these former Soviet Republics/Central Asian nations are the same aren’t they?! Try using Google – it can bring an end to a life of ignorance!

  4. What’s with Williams and countries ruled by despots? Interesting connection. I wonder if North Korea sponsorship is next…

    1. Yes, the face of the great leader will adorn the rear engine cover. He won the first 8 championships in the 1950’s before retiring to let someone else win you know…

      It is interesting however that Kazakhstan are taking some measures to gain international awareness. I know of the cycling sponsorship and their rider Alexander Vinokourov. Out of the central Asian post-USSR republics, they may be the most well recognised in the general population. Although I suspect a lot of that recognition may come from the Borat movie, now they can start to gently shape that impression of the country to be more positive with smart advertising.

  5. “It has been trying to brush up its international image”

    Didn’t Borat already take care of that? Can’t wait to see him wave the chequered flag!!

  6. Great example of the Williams marketing department punching above the cars on track performance and managing to seek out sponsorship opportunities.

    With Experian announced as a new sponsor at the beginning of the season too this shows there is money out there and Williams seems to have the knack of managing to seek out sponsorship opportunities (even if some of the deals are small scale).

  7. So, basically Williams, having found how lucrative it is to deal with tinpot dictators, is now getting money from Nazerbayev as well? Who’s next, Kim Jong-un? Teodorin Obiang?

    1. I can’t stand this “Formula 1 should only deal with governments that have squeaky-clean reputations” attitude, because no government has a squeaky clean reputation. Look at Lotus, and the way they tried to get Honeywell on-board as a sponsor. Honeywell holds defence contracts and has produced cluster bombs – a particularly nasty piece of ordnance – for the US government in the past. But did anyone complain about Honeywell’s reputation when they were negotiating with Lotus? No. Quite the contrary; people were genuinely excited about it because it meant more money going into the team’s coffers, which could be used to develop a more competitive car so that Kimi Raikkonen could challenge for the World Championship.

      I guess that if you have a foreign-sounding name and run a relatively-obscure country with a less-than-stellar human rights record, then that’s too bad; you don’t deserve to be associated with Formula 1. But if you’re Anglo-Saxon and are supporting a popular driver, then fans are willing to overlook the way you have developed – for profit – some of the most fiendish conventional weapons ever thought up by man.

  8. Might be reaching a bit here, but is there any chance that this might pave the way for Juncadella to be reserve driver at Williams? He would be a great fit, and goodness knows Williams need a better reserve than Wolff

  9. Before too many people get up to the moral high ground they should know that most teams in racing are probably doing business with Kazakhstan, albeit indirectly. Kazakhstan is the world’s leading producer of titanium foam which is then converted into ingots for the many titanium parts on racing cars, aeroplanes, etc.

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