On The Grid in Sochi

This is the “On The Grid” column written for GP+ in Sochi. I think it is worth repeating for non-subscribers, as there are things that perhaps should be said about the event. It was entitled “Them that ask no questions isn’t told a lie…”

The locals would like the world to think of the coastline around Sochi as “The Russian Riviera”. This is rather optimistic, although it is a rather a scenic area. The Russian government poured inordinate amounts of money – something in the region of $50 billion – to create new infrastructure for the 2014 Winter Olympics, and they hope that this will mean economic benefits for generations to come.
It is a bizarre fact that President Vladimir Putin’s dabbling in Crimea and Ukraine – and the ensuing economic sanctions and manipulations of the price of oil – have caused the ruble to halve in value in the last 12 months. This would logically mean that foreigners could enjoy cheaper Russian holidays, but Putin’s behaviour has done very little to attract tourists.
The plunging ruble has, effectively, doubled the cost of foreign holidays for Russian citizens and so rather than jetting off to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat or The Hamptons, they have been taking domestic holidays instead. According to Russia’s Federal Agency for Tourism, the total number of trips Russians made abroad in the first half of 2015 dropped by 24 percent compared to the same period in 2014.
This has worked in Sochi’s favour, because Russians are taking more domestic holidays than ever before and the Black Sea coast is seen as being an exciting place to be.
For the seasoned travellers of F1, it has a rather 1970s feel to it, particularly when it rains, but generally F1 folk are polite about where they go and, while some have very serious misgivings about what the sport is doing in Russia, people do not come out and say it. It reminds me of the behaviour in a childhood rhyme, called the “Smuggler’s Song”, by Rudyard Kipling. It goes as follows: “If you wake at midnight and hear a horse’s feet, don’t go drawing back the blind, or looking in the street. Them that ask no questions isn’t told a lie. Watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by.”
The darlings of the F1 world have been watching the walls in Sochi with considered concentration. They may not like the idea of being used as a propaganda tool, but there is not much that can be done about it and so the only solution is to stick one’s fingers in one’s ears and go “la-la-la-la” loudly, so as not to hear any disapproving noises. Putin is big on cultivating a macho image, hunting, shooting, fishing, riding Harleys and other manly pursuits, and so F1’s image is just the kind of thing he wants.
I cannot say that I know where the line should be drawn. It is not my job to do that, but sometimes I do wonder whether the motorsport authorities have been sufficiently serious about these matters, or whether everything is dictated solely by money.
Let us not forget, that Russia is not at the top of the international hit parade at the moment. It was thrown out of the G8 organisation in March 2014 after the annexation of Crimea. Let us not forget also that a few months later 298 innocent people died when a civilian airliner was shot out of the sky. Everyone denies having done it, but a few weeks ago Dutch investigators announced that fragments of a suspected Russian missile system had been found at the crash site. This came after a draft resolution put before the UN Security Council to set up an international tribunal into the incident was vetoed by Russia.
Let us not forget also that as the F1 circus was heading in to Sochi, the Russians were launching salvo after salvo of rockets from ships in the Caspian Sea at targets in Syria, 1000 miles away. The goal was to keep the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power, but at the same time one can argue that it is also an attempt to get Russia seen as a major player in international relations once again, something that will help rally support behind Putin, by instilling the Russian population with a new sense of pride and patriotism.
We talked of none of this in Sochi, but there was an undercurrent in the paddock, an uncomfortable sense that maybe, just maybe, F1 should be a little more standoffish with Russia. People who one expects to see at races, were not there. Others kept their heads down and talked only of racing matters, and mumbled quietly about getting the weekend over and done with, and looking forward to going to the other extreme in a few days time in Austin, Texas.
There were small hints of resistance. Up in the media centre on Friday, some wag created a wireless network called “CIAspyfi”. It was not long before some mysterious men appeared in the room with what was clearly a radio detection device, keen to try to find out who was responsible for this act of defiance. After a few minutes, the network disappeared and another popped up. It was called “Not-CIA-Spy”. The radio detection man continued to wander about, trying to identify the source of the signal. A few more minutes passed and another network called “Youcantfindmeeeee” appeared.
IMG_0586 Anyone with an idea about these things knows that if you want to pinpoint a signal you really need to have two direction finding devices so that one can use triangulation techniques to flush out the offender(s).
On Saturday morning it was no great surprise to see that there were two Russians with radio detection devices… but the signal was gone. The birds had flown.
The FIA, feeling somewhat caught in the middle, issued a statement saying that the free wifi network provided for the media was being “unduly stressed by the large number of private networks being connected to the system” and asked those involved to respect the efforts made in recent times to provide the press with free communication.
This was ironic, of course, because the federation entirely overlooked the fact that a Grand Prix is designed to make places look good and that it has always been absolutely outrageous to force the media to pay large sums of money to deliver that message. We understand that this happens simply because the promoters are trying to claw back money that they have been forced to pay for the events, but it is wrong.
It was all harmless fun (although perhaps the Russians did not see it that way), but it did underline the fact that beneath the surface in F1, some people are aware of the bigger picture.

For more information, go to http://www.grandprixplus.com.

65 thoughts on “On The Grid in Sochi

  1. It’s a great article and I applaud you for publishing it.

    I think we should remember Western governments are less bad rather than good in comparison, we’re ‘fighting’ plenty of proxy wars ourselves but I’m pleased someone actually published what nonsense this is!

  2. After Lewis tossed the trophy in the air, Checo leaned in and told him: “Lewis stop, you’ll bean Putin, and we’ll all go to the gulag!”.

  3. The scary thing is that Russia is giving Assad piles of weapons and full on military air/sea/land support whilst the rebels are fighting them using US sourced weapons.

    Pick your allies wisely and remember that history is always written by the winners.

    1. I suspect no-one would come round looking for the people in question, But I will suggest that to the perp from Sochi.

      1. You must not be paying attention to current events. It’s quite ironic given this article that Mr. Snowden is now exiled in Russia.

  4. Thanks very much for that Joe, as always you seem to be the only F1 journalist to address the truths at the heart of the sport. I really respect you for that, and value your observations for the added perspective they give.

    I am horrified and sick to my stomach seeing Putin and Ecclestone acting like buddies. I even switched off watching as I couldn’t take it.

    Apart from the appalling politicks of the place, the track is way too much like Valencia for my liking, a soulless place with empty grandstands and a dull layout. The race was OK and seemed to come together at the end but thank heavens it was live on the BBC, as I would feel short changed if I had to buy to watch it, and would never do so again.

    Very much looking forward to the genuine warmth and honest brightness of Austin!

    1. “with empty grandstands”

      To me the place looked rather well packed. We’ve definitely seen a lot worse as far as number of people in the grandstands go. Germany last year looked emptier..

        1. I have read that Sochi viewing figures compared to last year were: BBC down 13%, Sky down 25%.

          If this was a serious business , execs. would be jumping from balconies, but in BernieWorld TV as long as the cash keeps rolling in, everything is perfect.

          Sometime this stupidity is going to blow-up in someone’s face.

        1. In a state where 1 in 4 have no health insurance, he succeeded in blocking a plan to offer Texans cheap health insurance with the federal government picking up 90% of the tab.

          Meanwhile, Texans’ taxes are helping to pay for those same federal subsidies for people in other states.

          Are you sure he’s not a political mastermind? Selling this seems like one hell of an achievement to me, right up there with getting turkeys to vote for Christmas, no?

  5. Joe, thank you for the article.
    I just want to mention about night race plans in 2016 and beyond. I think it’s stupid idea because weather in Sochi is not the same as in Abu Dhabi or in Singapore. And night race is very very expensive issue but Putin wants it, Mr.E agrees with it so the works will start soon.
    Putin needs more attention because of 2018 election. He wants to show Russian people that everything is ok in the country, the economics grows but in reality our economy on 70% depends on oil prices and this is the shame.
    But anyway the second Russian GP was interesting, wasn’t it?

    1. I did not go to the first Hungarian GP. I did go to the first race in China and that was fine. I also went to races behind the Iron Curtain in Brno, back in the 1980s, that was fine too.

      1. I recall Sándor Dávid – a Hungarian sports journalist – mentioning in his blog a few years ago that he was present at some of the pre-arrangements before the first race and some journalists from Austria (! – prepare to witness the historical irony in it) were asking questions such as “Can you buy bread over there, or should we bring our bread-baking equipment?” – I wonder whether they really thought this through: a country with no bread but with electricity.

        So I’m guessing there had been a bit of obscurity concerning much of the things on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

      2. I was at the first Hungarian GP in 1986, and a little apprehensive because the country was still in the dying days of Russian occupation. I drove across the border with two Australians, one of whom was Hungarian-born and crazy. He was noisily insulting the ‘invaders’ (in Hungarian, of course), having convinced himself that his Aussie passport would protect him. Miraculously, he got out without being arrested or ‘disappeared.’

        You don’t catch out a Hungarian very often when it comes to money, of course, and the hotels had pumped up their prices. There were some tricks going on with currency exchange (much better rates were available from freelance ‘bankers’ hiding in dark doorway, although a few innocently unsuspecting folk found they had acquired worthless banknotes from Bulgaria).

        I had read about a restaurant that was recommended not just for its good food and wine (the local stuff is v drinkable) but also for its ornate gilded decor, a left-over from pre-war days. I managed to get a reservation, but most of the other tables were occupied by senior Russian officers, all carrying side arms, and their local molls.

        The atmosphere at the race was extraordinary, largely because spectators had flooded in from all over the countries behind the Iron Curtain (remember that?). Many of them had driven in their horrible East German-built cars. We all know about the Trabant, but there were even worse things, including a model made of papier-maché and powered by a two-stroke engine. I took a taxi trip in one of those and after a few hundred metres my clothes stank of the fumes. What would that have been like if you’d driven all the way from Warsaw?

        It was a great race, especially the memorable overtake when Nelson Piquet drove his Williams round the outside of Ayrton Senna’s Lotus at the first corner to take (and hold) the lead. I suspect that most of the crowd were somewhat unsophisticated race-goers who had been expecting multiple collisions and balls of fire, because they never turned up in such numbers again.

        I also thought I was doing rather well with a very attractive English-speaking woman who was employed in the media centre. My ardour was diminished when she introduced me to the captain of the Hungarian Olympic Karate team and informed me that he was her boyfriend.

        1. I did go to the 1988 race (so I missed the first two) but I do recall restaurants with huge menus and knifed. You could read the mention as much as you wanted but whatever you ordered you were told that they had goulash. In Czechoslovakia I remember the high jinks with black market money. Was also given a very friendly guide, who seemed to always be around…

        2. That’s an amazing story. Keep in mind that Queen held a ma-hoo-sive concert in Budapest two weeks before the race, so there were people from all over Eastern Europe. There’s even a scene in the concert film where some members of the band go karting at the Hungaroring, which you can see still not being 100% finished at every point.

  6. About MH17:
    The Dutch Transport Safety council will present a report later today in which says MH17 was shot down by a BUK missile of modern design.
    Earlier today the Russian manufacturer of BUK missiles held a press conference in which it stated that the plane wasn’t shot down by a BUK, and if it was, then it must have been an old design BUK. (Which Russia doesn’t use anymore, but Ukraine does).

    About sports in Russia:
    Some time ago I saw a tv-documentary about an agency set up by the Russian government with the aim to attract as many major sport events as possible. The claim of the documentary was that this agency didn’t stop at bribery (which seems to be common) but also used blackmail and physical violence as tools to achieve its goals.

    I say F1 should not be in Russia.

  7. As quite often , Joe, your opinion is most valuablem, interesting and you are for sure one of the few journalist whom I’d like one day to meet, even for discussing non F1 related topics. But if we mix F1 and political / sociological / libertarian issues, then F1 should not travel to more or less recent location .. China, Qatar, other Emirates…

  8. A humble plea from an admirer.

    Joe, every line of political dogma and discussion of world politics is a wasted line on F1 you could have thrown our way.
    It is F1 related content and your informed views of such that draws me here.

    I say that as a die-hard Sawardist

    I add my good wishes [and apologies just in case]

    kind regards
    O. T. from north london, england

    1. OT, sports do not occur in a vacuum, and when held in a politically charged country with the head politician interjecting himself in the procedings, some form of commentary would seem mandatory.

      Kudos to Joe for asking for thought.

      1. Absolutely agree and hats off to Joe for writing the article reflecting sentiments that many of us feel. F1 should not be giving reflected glory to Putin and Co by holding events there and this comment applies to a number of other GPs including China.

        As to the comment ‘I do wonder whether the motorsport authorities have been sufficiently serious about these matters, or whether everything is dictated solely by money’ – we have in that place for an awfully long time now – the reason why so many ‘old school ‘ races have gone and others may follow.

  9. There are could be some radio interference with let’s say ‘security devices used by president security squad’ because of WIFI channels selected for local hot spotprohibited in particular (CIS) region.

    You could kick out GSM 1800 transmitters with DECT 6.0 from North America

    And you need radio detector (not WiFi scanner app) to locate ‘bad radio device’.
    GSM operators have such equipment as part of standard package.

    1. You are I think mistaken.

      DECT 6.0 operates at 1.9Ghz, and so any risk of interference would be greater in the US-operated GSM 1900 waveband than it would for GSM 1800.

      More fundamentally, GSM 1800 is a common standard through much of EMEA (including the UK); yet I trust that Mr Saward commented only because other nations’ security staff have not found similar precautions necessary…

  10. The place looked soulless on screen.

    After MH17 the alleged former soviet republic disintegrated any notion of well being towards it for yet another generation of Westerners.

    However the one aspect I did appreciate from the race was its ability to stir up the sheer outrage that had settled from that….event…

    Daniel Ricciardo ought to be ashamed to be associated with a race backed by the same people who stole the lives of 38 innocent people who also call Australia home.

    1. Another question is, why did Air Malaysia still fly over a civil war location when they were warned by other airlines who changed the flying route therefore to better change as well? 298 valuable lives could have been saved if Malaysian Airlines had followed the wise advice from the rival airlines.

      1. Rival airlines used the same route. As an example, a Singapore Airlines flight was only 5-10 minutes ahead of MH17.

    2. Daniel Riccardo had no reason to be ashamed. If principles are so important perhaps you shouldn’t have watched the race – I assume you watched some of it to be able to describe it as looking soul less on screen.

      Joe travelled to the race, is making money from reporting on the race, do you suggest he should be ashamed as well. No, of course not. What is the difference?

      There are lots of things that kill Australians. Lots of things that kill more than 38 Australians. If you are even half serious in your comments Daniel shouldn’t be attending races in many countries, including Australia, where at times our own human rights record leaves a lot to be desired.

      Perhaps you would have preferred he followed through on Tony Abotts mouthy “shirt fronting” comments. If Tony himself proved he wouldn’t put his money where his mouth was why should Daniel be expected to step in.

  11. Joe! What does this blog have to do with the motorsport??? Sport is international tool to unite people…… I am 100% out of any politics… but your blog…. It looks like you are so ‘envious’ to the fact that the Russian GP was so successful, really very overcrowded, full of joy..many new young people attended … and it was very ‘loud’ within Russia and it was run in the presence of the leaders of the country (not so many GP are treated and respected and important like this…..) ? Foget about politics, its not important here…..Are you not fond of the sport anymore? Because I do not see any joy in your blogs on Sochi that the sport has reached this awesome level in the new part of the world! …….The poetry is called “The smugglers” as far as I know, by the way….. And I assure you ))) those Russian people who were in Sochi do have money to visit Europe, or US, or OAE…… By the way for foreigners it was VERY cheap, You didn’t mention it))) And FYI, Russian people who cant’s afford going abroad today are those who visit Turkey or Egypt, means budget tourists……… I guess you should have any good Russian friends to not “tell the lie” ))) Ask me)) You can find me in FB Group ” F1 Russian GP” and I do not work in Sochi ))))

  12. While you do bring up some good points, I feel like you are looking at this from a far too Western perspective, which of course is understandable because as far as I know, you are from the Western world. I’m sure Russian people would have similar views about being in the US. Remember the US effectively slaughtered thousands of Iraqis and are currently using drones in Syria no one has ever questioned if we should be in the US or not.

    I understand this is an idealistic view, but I think F1 should leave the politics behind and just go where the tracks are the best and, of course, where safety is assured for all.

    1. Who is to say that your views are not coloured by left wing propaganda as much as you claim mine are by the West?

      1. That is exactly what I’m talking about. I feel like it’s impossible for almost anyone to have an objective view not influenced by our respective medias because that is the media we are exposed to on a daily basis and consciously or subconsciously, media has a huge part on how everyone views things.

        Because of this, and the fact that F1 is a global sport, I feel as though F1 should try wherever possible to not be influenced by any kind of political situation. I also appreciate that this isn’t really possible and isn’t going to happen, but going back to that Kipling prose you quoted: “Them that ask no questions isn’t told a lie.”. Every government in the world is probably involved in some shady dealings (admittedly some worse than others) and to not go to one place sort of reeks of hypocrisy in my eyes. I believe F1 would be better to simply “ask no questions”.

        I do agree however that this is a really complex issue and there’s probably no easy, hard and fast rule that can be stipulated or implemented.

        1. I agree and I steer clear of all such commentary unless the race becomes a political question. Handing out trophies is not a political question, but inserting yourself in places where no-one has been raises questions. Similarly, if the race is being used by one side or the other (or both) in a political conflict then it should be reported upon. Thus, for example, I will comment on the annual Australian GP ding-dong between local politicians about whether the race is worth the money it costs. Otherwise, I steer clear of this stuff of the very reasons you mention.

          1. I re-read my original comment and I would like to apologise because it read much more like I was attacking your decision to report on this than I had originally intended. I was intending more so to question the public perception of F1 going to Russia, or anywhere at all, being a problem when in reality twenty-two cars going around a track has very little do with the real cause of the tension between the two countries.

  13. about the race word in the article. one policy. unprofessional !!! Sport – is not a policy !! Brasayte this job and go to help refugees from Syria, since you are so getting into politics.

  14. the absolute lack of journalistic competence. see how next week will be written about the US actions in Libya, Iraq, Yugoslavia. What happened in these countries. do not forget to write about racial troubles in Ferguson. the sport is out of politics.

      1. Why you haven’t written about Chinese Grand Prix: the problems with the economy, separatism in Tibet and the oppression of the Muslim minority. British Grand Prix: the annexation of the Falkland Islands, regime change in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan. Spanish Grand Prix: unemployment and the problem with immigrants, corruption in King’s family. Bahrain Grand Prix about the oppression of the opposition. German Grand Prix: the outbreak of the two world wars. Mexican Grand Prix: crime, mass murder, drug trafficking. UAE GP: supply weapon to the terrorists. Continue?

        1. I have explained this several times. If the F1 race is put into the political spotlight, as it was with Putin doing things that are not normal, the race then becomes a political issue. If we tried to judge every country there would be no races because you will always find something that somebody somewhere would consider to be related to human rights. It is a subtle distinction but very clear.

  15. Hi Joe,
    You are very respected journalist but the whole political thesis coming from the guy with a WiFi signal detector is so amazingly funny. You can’t be serious about this, can you? The case was very simple – the journalist from Brazil has overloaded the net making trouble to everyone else. And the guy with detector appeared simply to find bad router. Just to make Sochi Autodrom to provide proper wifi service to everyone, not only to the Brazilian media. What on Earth the story you’re telling in such manner then? Do not create hysteria please. Why wouldn’t you tell that Mr. President forced Pirelli to make those typical Gulag hats which simply a genius design common in all Russia. Pathetic really.
    Best wishes.

    1. Thanks for that. So nice of you to be so polite. If you read the story again you will understand that it is not just about the wifi signal. It was about the way in which Putin and his sidekicks inserted themselves into F1 in such a way as I (and many others) felt it became a propaganda exercise. The wifi signal story was an aside.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s