The Russian GP

The Formula 1 statement regarding the Russian Grand Prix is welcome, given what is happening in Ukraine. There is a strong feeling around the world that Russia must pay for the actions of its leader Vladimir Putin. This is only to be expected given what has been done – and continues to be done as each hour passes.

Russia is no longer welcome at the table. It is a sad situation but the country has – to a large extent – allowed its leader to do what he has done and if it wants to be allowed back into the international community, Russians must get together and get rid of Putin and his cronies. That is easy to write but hard to achieve because Putin does have widespread support at home, where the state media is constantly pumping him up.

Of course, we need to be aware that there is propaganda on both sides of every fight, but it is clear that the general view is that the attack on Ukraine is an unacceptable act.

The F1 statement does not actually say that the Russian GP is cancelled. It says that “it is impossible to hold the Russian Grand Prix in the current circumstances”. In legal terms, this is not a cancellation. It leaves the question open, while at the same time, making the point that those involved in the sport do not want the race to happen. But these things are never easy because contracts exist and perhaps the wording in the contract does not cover the situation of a country attacking another.

There is no doubt that there will be clauses relating to force majeure and such matters, but whether this covers a war that does not happen around the race track is something that probably needs discussing. And, inevitably, everyone wants to avoid a situation in which a contract has been broken. So, for the moment, the situation is that there will not be a Russian GP, but if circumstances change in the next few months then the race could still happen. This is not likely to be the case, as things stand, but the race is not scheduled until September and we don’t know what will happen between now and then. So we should not expect any quick replacement announcement.

The Haas team has said that it is looking into legal issues relating to its Uralkali sponsorship and the future of Nikita Mazepin in the team, probably for similar reasons. Perhaps no-one wants to continue those relationships but breaking them off requires suitable settlements. One cannot just stop contracts unless there are clauses covering such eventualities and the idea of a war breaking in Europe simply did not exist when these deals were done.

It is far-fetched to suggest that there will be a situation in which the race will happen in 2022 (and even for years after that) but there does need to be a proper settlement.

48 thoughts on “The Russian GP

  1. Follow the money- Dr Mike Lawrence, RIP. Liberty will do all in its power to stage the race. Money talks. How they’ll get paid is another story. Over to you Joe?

  2. “these things are never easy because contracts exist”

    Where is the court that has jurisdiction over the contracts located? I’m not a lawyer, but I believe that there’s a legal expression in Latin to the effect, “Where are the facts?” Did anyone sign contracts in Russia? If they did, Russia will look to see whether other countries such as China will allow their courts and legal systems to harass anyone who rejects the judgements of Russian courts. Let’s face it, Russian courts will probably issue orders to confiscate any F1 assets so there will be lawyers hired in every country to argue about where the facts are as a harassment tactic.

  3. I wouldn’t be surprised if a Russian GP returns next year but that is just my pessimistic opinion. Regardless, the drivers did the right thing by speaking out and hopefully their pressure will stop a reversal of this decision. It is hard to have a competition if all the competitors (bar one for obvious reasons) refuse to go.

  4. Hi Joe,
    Who do you think might take Mazepins race seat if Hass settles his contract?
    Does Mazepins Dad have a sharehold in Hass F1 LLC?
    How much do you reckon Gene Hass will have to find to (i) pay off Mazepin and (ii) top up the Hass F1 budget?
    Great blog as ever!

  5. The promoter is saying the race isn’t cancelled and so they will not issue refunds to ticket holders. Which is to be expected, really.

    Given the comparative military might, I would expect any invasion in Ukraine to be decided in Russia’s favour very promptly. I wonder how quickly Western eyes will avert their gaze. With a puppet government installed in Ukraine and “the war is over”, I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see the race go ahead in September. F1 have turned their eyes away from worse atrocities (Bahrain in particular) and carried on racing.

  6. Andrew Benson used the word “cancelled.” Yet, you say it is not cancelled. And you say there are arguments on both sides of invading Ukraine, a sovereign nation? Rational arguments?

  7. In the hypothetical situation that F1 would break the contract, without a ‘valid’ reason, what might the consequences be? Besides a hefty fine that is?

  8. Would be interested to know what leads you to believe that the attack on Ukraine might be an ‘acceptable’ act? The general consensus term seems to leave room for seeing the attack on Ukraine as legitimate or warranted. Is this what you meant to say or am I misunderstanding you?

  9. I hugely admire Vettel for initiating the refusal to race and probably encouraging others join his protest. I suspect there was also pressure from the powers that be to “cancel” so a proper and good job done. The lawyers will not have been doing their job if they did not have some kind of getout clause that would cover what’s happened. Putin has been pretty transparent, even if dishonest, about many of his intentions and our leaders have been less than wise to have provoked him by placing rocket launchers on his borders but even more so by strengthening his position by removing our storage and failing to initiate further energy sources which are long term issues and were already a problem with our desire to basically make everything electric. As ever too many talkers in positions of power.
    Russia must be punished this time, they’ve been playing fast and loose, in so many things for far too long and we’ve been sitting on our hands and giving theirs a gentle tap.
    Very much hope that the people of Ukraine do not suffer too much and that the fighting is short lived.

  10. Well, in exchange for all of Ukraine’s nuclear weapons, Russia committed to peaceful relations. Contracts with Russia obviously mean nothing. The hell with them and all their so-called F1 “commitments.” Mazespin can go back to grabbing women’s breasts in the back seat.

    This also brings back the issue of dismembered journalists in Saudi embassies. I guess a single human life isn’t worth enough to F1…

  11. My guess: Gene Haas sells to Michael Andretti (cheaper than staying from scratch) , Russian sponsorship is no longer a factor. Maze-spin is toast.

  12. I am happy to see that the FIA was able to make a quick and obvious decision, albeit leaving themselves an out suggests they still lack a backbone.

  13. It is such a shame that the EU could not reach agreement to block SWIFT money transfers, but not being able to enter Russian airspace achieves the same result for F1.

    I was impressed that Seb was very quick to say that he would refuse to compete.

  14. I suspect reality is even more complex. If F1 makes a moral choice now then, well where would it end? No GPs in countries with a dubious human rights record or a history of aggression? And, I find it hard to write this, should a driver be penalised just because of their nationality?

  15. Congratulations again on a well- presented piece, Joe. When things go crazy, it is always good to hear a voice of reason.

  16. With regard to: “there does need to be a proper settlement”

    If one of the parties were to break the contract—given the sanctions that do and will exist—where and what would the forum be that would facilitate the transfer of funds between Russia and the West?

  17. Agree Joe, use of “current circumstances” leaves plenty of wiggle room to reinstate the race.

    Let’s hope Liberty has the testicular fortitude to close them down permanently.

  18. I imagine it might be beneficial to all if Mazepin & Uralkali parted ways as this would be the story at Haas throughout the season if things stay as they are. I would imagine that US investment could be sought and a US driver to replace Mazepin. Andretti could enter F1 on the cheap with a stake in Haas and see how things go without parting with $200M?

      1. If interest in F1 is as strong in the US as appears to be the case, it should be quite viable for Haas to find alternative sponsorship, I’d have thought. Neither the team nor the Haas business organisation need the distraction the current arrangements would inevitably cause, irrespective of any other considerations.

        For Andretti, this is, if anything, a problem to some degree or other because there are now (possibly) two US teams seeking sponsorship and Haas maybe the better value, certainly in the short term, although the Andretti name has its own worth.

  19. F1 should be cancelling the race as a slam dunk. Even if things improve by September (eg a Russian withdrawal) what is done is done.

    Even if this is breaking a contract that is surely less of an evil versus invading another country.

    F1 could presumably very easily bring on a replacement race.

    1. If only. F1 is a business that makes money. All they have done with the Russian GP statement is say ‘Look, we’re doing something ! but not much and if it changes, we’re happy to have the race again because we can ask a lot of ‘Putin Pesos’ to host the race. If they were truly about ‘racing as one’, they would cancel the race until further notice, no wishy washy around it ‘under the current circumstances’.

  20. Is the threshold for Liberty Media the unleashing of guns, bombs and missiles? Only then will LM act, and even then couched in layers of legalese. Meanwhile, many other host countries abuse human rights on a daily basis. Joe and I agree to disagree. At least we enjoy that right.

  21. If a country does not have free and democratic election where a government can be removed by its people it is meant to represent. Then F1 and other sporting codes should not take part in that country. This sports washing and ignoring human rights while all the time time chasing never ending $$$ and nobody says anything in case it upsets sponsors is an embarrassment.

  22. Joe

    Going back 40 years a similar situation was averted around drivers. When Carlos Reutemann walked out on Williams after the SA GP that could have come to a head if he stayed when the Falkland War started as you are not allowed to do business with a country you at war with. Would have been an interesting conundrum for Sir Frank Williams to face.

    Sadly like European countries have got used to Russian money flowing through them, F1 has got used to countries prepared to pay whatever it costs to Sportswash. Private Eye in 🇬🇧 got it right when they showed Berlin in 1936 under the caption “before a genocide” and 2022 Winter Games under the caption “during a genocide”.

    Sportsman and women may be innocent bystanders, but the sports boycott affected South Africa significantly in eradicating apartheid because rebel tours galvanised the opposition. Mike Getting is in record saying he thought he was going to die during protest against him and England rebels taking huge pay days to break the sports boycott in 1989.

  23. I suspect the process of putting Putin back in his box will be a very long term requirement.

    He is a psychopath, and so many people will suffer unless he is kicked out. It’s hard to know what Russians think in the country. The suppression of protests, the fear of consequences for protesting, etc. Everything possible needs to be mobilised to put this pathetic little aggressor man in his place.

    Sports being taken away are symbolic, and don’t hurt the Russian people directly, but I think it’s a good message to send without this harm. Stronger messages from sports that they will not return until Russia learns how to behave in international relations is required – I know, straying into politics with sport is not great, but sport needs to do its part at this time.

    So F1, how about a clause in your contracts that races will be withdrawn for 5 years minimum if a country breaks various international laws? Invasion of a sovereign country should certainly be one of those rules. Certainly it should also be conditional on human rights improvements now they’re taking so much Middle Eastern dollar…

    1. Paul

      It’s a pysche thing. I grew up in a dictatorship, we just didn’t know it. In 1994 everything changed but nothing changed because people’s mindset is they do not challenge authority. Still don’t and that’s why things get worse not better. Russia I would imagine is similar as they never really reset after the fall of the USSR.

      1. Interesting that these things become normal with time Andrew. A democracy where the the population can vote out incumbents seems best solution, but where a country is divided or so factional I can see the benefit of a dictator.

        Which country were you in?

        1. I grew up in South Africa. My 1/8 of the country was safe etc, but we never knew how it was held together..when we saw armed troops in townships in troop carriers we were told it was to stop becoming a USSR satellite etc. Not that the majority just wanted to be free in their own country.

          Now the government say if you don’t vote for them apartheid will be reintroduced by the opposition. It’s simply not true, but voting in South Africa has been about fear not progress since probably the 1924 general election during the great strike

          Politicians are only interested in power and influence

            1. If only it were that simple. They were both the same thing, only now with such freedom under the constitution it’s exposed.

              But this is a motorsport blog, just history turns up every so often

  24. Can Uralkali/Uralchem still pays Haas when there are so many financial restrictions on Russia by Europe and America? If the Mazepins cannot pay then surely the sponsorship contract is already broken?

  25. It is strange/curious that amongst a human tragedy we need to find, as you put it, a proper settlement re the race contract for the Russian GP. That there cannot be a race in Russia for the foreseeable future would seem obvious. As to the current contract, a force majeure again seems an obvious answer, there may be no exact clause re a war not at the circuit but, ‘your country has invaded a sovereign country and thus we cannot travel to your country’ would seem to cover it (air travel restrictions etc.).
    I feel for HAAS and Mazepin, they are both caught in a nasty bind.
    Perhaps we have reach a point where the ethics and morals of all F1 participants need to be examined and exposed, especially when we think about their We Race As One motto. That would be a very tough can of worms.

      1. Hi Joe. “Bringing the company/sport into disrepute” is a pretty standard clause in any contract…… I haven’t read the contract either but I’d be very surprised if there wasn’t something like that in there…….

  26. Having distant cousins living in Ukraine and a grandfather from Kiev I have personal opinions. The Russians have not and are not trustworthy partners in any arrangements.

    So, the Russian GP should be tabled for the foreseeable future. Haas GP good luck with that one. The team made the deal with these people. They will have to live with it.

  27. Disabusing brat oligarch kids of their fantasy privilege including things like paid F1 drives is key to the West’s sanction strategy. Mazepin’s dad and others like him are the ones who, if sufficiently upset at Putin, can make change. Mazepin won’t drive another race in F1.

  28. “Perhaps no-one wants to continue those relationships but breaking them off requires suitable settlements”

    Given that the G7 are looking to seize the assets of those Russian oligarchs associated with Putin, if the Mazepins are included among such individuals, is there a need to reach a settlement with such a party (since they are no longer permitted to hold any significant financial assets)?

  29. I’m pleased that Mazepin is allowed to race by FIA. He shouldn’t be another casualty of Putin, he’s a young lad who has just wants to race. I think for once FIA got this right. I’m sure that there will be quite a few circuits wanting the Russian GP slot, whatever happened with Vietnam GP?

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