Believe it or not the 2014 Russian Grand Prix wasn’t the first Grand Prix to be held in Russia. In fact, the history of top level motorsport in Russia begins way back, before World War One in 1913 in the city of St Petersburg. The 1913 Russian Grand Prix featured a Russian one-two finish with Gregory Suvorin taking victory in just under two and a half hours, behind the wheel of his early Mercedes Benz and Ivor Ivanov following Suvorin home in his Russian built Russo-Balt, one of Russia’s first car manufacturers who operated between 1894 and 1923.
Grand Prix racing returned to the streets of St Petersburg one year later in 1914 but this time it wouldn’t be a Russian driver standing on the top step of the podium, however in a repeat of the races just over a century on, it would again be a Benz/Merecedes-Benz car taking victory for the second year in a row. The Russian Stepan Ovsyannikov would take second place in what would be the final Russian Grand Prix for 100 years as first WW1, and then the Russian Civil War stopped any prospect of continuing the Russian GP dead in its tracks.
The Grand Prix of the Soviet Union was added to the Formula 1 World Championship calendar in 1983, the same year that would see Nelson Piquet become the first driver to win the F1 title with a turbocharged engine. However, due to bureaucratic barriers and some heavily involved politics the proposed race on the streets of Moscow never materialised and F1 instead turned to Hungary as the first race to take place behind the Iron Curtain in 1986.
The early 2000’s saw many failed attempts to resurrect the Russian Grand Prix, which was fast becoming up to a century in its dormancy, the first being an attempt to build a circuit known as the Pulkovsoe Ring near Pulkovo Airport in St Petersburgh, a project supported by the Russian President Vladmir Putin. Although the mooted Pulkovsoe Ring never materialised, and another attempt to build a track capable of hosting F1 in Northern Moscow (Nagatino Island) also fell flat on it’s face work began on the now well known Moscow Raceway in 2008, a Tilke designed circuit created to host both Formula One and Moto GP races.
Completed in July 2012, the Moscow Raceway was built at a cost of approximately $150m and although it’s yet to hold the coveted F1 race it was originally built for, it has seen prestigious international championships such as Formula Renault 3.5 Series and the DTM visit the circuit in recent years. Talk of a Russian Grand Prix began to accelerate once again in 2010 with the arrival of Vitaly Petrov into F1, and in October the same year Bernie Eccelstone officially announced a seven year contract for the Russian Grand Prix to be held in Sochi, the host city for the 2014 winter Olympics until at least the year 2020.
Now entering it’s third season as a round of the Formula One championship, the Sochi Autodrom has yet to win its place in the hearts of F1 fans after a dull debut in 2014 was followed by a slightly more exciting encounter in October last year (think back to Bottas and Raikkonen on the last lap). It’s been just seven months since Sergio Perez famously claimed that podium finish in Russia and Rosberg’s recent stunning form leaves Hamilton already trailing in the championship by more than one race victory. Lewis will need to pull out all the stops this weekend if he is to return to the top step of the podium for the first time since USA 2015, and claim a hat-trick of Russian Grand Prix victories.
Stay tuned for my Russian Grand Prix preview later this week.