It is too early to say with any certainty what the Russian attack on Ukraine will mean for Formula 1.
In time of war sport is no longer an important business, but since the F1 World Championship began in 1950, wars have had little impact on the sport because, thankfully, they have tended to be localized conflicts in places where the sport has had little or no presence. If the current conflict remains regional, the impact could be negligible.
But the way of war has changed and today, economic warfare is more important than tanks and guns. The concept of “absolute war” as defined by the Prussian military theorist General Carl von Clausewitz used to mean blanket bombing of cities, railways and industrial targets, but today it means depriving the enemy of ways to operate. It is all very well to have huge natural resources: oil and gas wells, mines and vast agricultural resources but one needs to be able to sell these to keep the economy solid. Oil and gas account for more than 60 percent of Russia’s exports. About 40 percent of the federal budget revenues came from oil and gas. This morning as the news of the invasion broke, the Russian rouble fell to record lows, as investors dumped the currency and moved their money to safer places. Thus buying foreign goods is suddenly much more expensive for the Russians and that has sparked fears of a financial crisis. Wars are expensive.
The problem with sanctions is that they impact both the seller and the buyer, as without the commodity, the buyer need to look elsewhere and this raises prices.
Nonetheless Russia’s attack has taken many analysts by surprise. Russia does not want to get into the expensive kind of messes that America has involved itself in over the years in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Older Russians will remember what a drain its war in Afghanistan was between 1979 and 1988, not just financially but also when it came to Russia’s morale and its self-confidence.
If Russia’s invasion succeeds – which is highly likely – there will then be a need for the invaders to govern the country to keep the peace. The ease with which this will be done is largely dependent on the level of support for the Russians. Life may become easier in the pro-Russian areas, but if there is support for resistance, then there will be resistance. Violent suppression of resistance movements is counter-productive because it often leads to more moderate people becoming active against the occupier. Fear only works for a while. A Ukraine resistance probably supported by the West, will require Russia to spend money to police the country and it will cost Russian lives. In time this would undermine Putin’s popularity at home.
The impact of the invasion on F1 in an immediate sense will largely depend on the decisions made in the West with regard to sanctions. If American companies are no longer allowed to do business with Russian firms (or firms that have links with Putin and his entourage) then the Russian GP may have to be cancelled. It will not really be missed. F1 may never go to Saint Petersburg as was the plan in 2023.
The Haas F1 team may have problems as a big percentage of its funding comes from the Russian firm Uralkali. In addition, if there are restrictions on the movement of Russian citizens, Nikita Mazepin’s career as an F1 driver could easily go up in smoke. The conflict is certainly an uncomfortable development for Haas as an American team racing in a car with obviously Russian-themed livery is not a great situation. However, if Mazepin was not there, someone else would step in and money would likely be found. F1 is on an upward path at the moment.
One can only feel sorry if these things happen but if a Russian leader thinks it is best for his country to act as Putin has done, then the country must deal with the implications of his actions.