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.