Brought to you by TheJude13 contributor Danilo Schöneberg
Editors note: Ecclestone has been trying to get Formula 1 into the Russian market for a long time. First Vitaly Petrov made an appearance and it was anticipated the money will flow from Russia but it did not and Petrov’s presence in Formula 1 came to an end. Next year we ‘should’ see Russia host it’s first Formula 1 race in Sochi and also see another Russian driver on the grid with major Russian backing. With this in mind we are taking a look at Russia and their motorsport heritage.
If all goes according to plan, we’ll see the first ever Grand Prix of Russia next year. Who is this huge nation that so many people know so little about?
When it comes to the sheer exocticness of the place, Russia is one of the front-runners among the newer Formula 1 venues. While Russia certainly isn’t some hapless micronation that one accidentally drives through when trying to avoid Belgium. Most westerners still look at it mystified as the Russians aren’t shouting out every aspect of their existence to the world, like the Americans for instance.
This little article shall take a look at Mother Russia from a Westerner’s perspective.
Pub Quiz Ammunition
Some aspects of Russia simply boggle the mind. One of those is the sheer size of the place. The westernmost region of Kaliningrad Oblast and the easternmost region of Chukotka are a mammoth 9 hours apart in time zones, meaning that for nine hours each day the Russian towns of Kalinigrad and Anadyr are on two different dates. A direct flight between those two, even if it existed, would take about 18 hours, six of which are simply hours that are lost by crossing all the time zones, but the pure flying time is still close to nine hours at Mach 0.82, the average cruise speed of a modern passenger airliner. In practical terms, unless you get Concorde back out of mothballs, there is no way to cross Russia from west to east on the same day by airliner.
This vastness also means, that Russia is one of the few places where time travel is possible. Back in the day, when KrasAir still lugged us around on the trusty old TU154M’s, we used to start from Omsk Central Airport at 3:30pm and landed at Hannover-Langenhagen at 3:00pm, half an hour before we even took off, and that after a 5.5 hours flight. Those 29 hour days used to wreak complete havoc with my biological clock.
Since all that vastness is populated by a mere 144,000,000 people and settlements tend to be far from each other. It is not uncommon to leave a settlement and not encounter any other for the next 101 kilometres. This number isn’t random either. In feudal Russia, criminal convicts were often outcast and were not allowed to settle less than a certain number of Werst from any settlement. That number translates to 101km these days, so whenever a thief or other ne’er-do-good was booted out, he had to settle far away and that’s why many settlements, especially in Siberia, are exactly 101 kilometres from each other.
There is also the other end of the scale. Russia and the US, the two opponents in the cold war are a lot closer to each than one might think. Little and Big Diomede Island are only 3.8 kilometres apart – the shortest way to get from Russia to America and back. Now here’s the kicker.
The small stretch of water between them is not only home to the border, but also contains the international date line, which means Big Diomede (Russia) is 23 hours ahead of Little Diomede (USA). So if you were to enter the USA that way, you’d be thrown back in time almost an entire day, while you would lose a perfectly usable day of your life if you went from America to Russia.
While only a few extreme swimmers have actually made the direct way from America to Russia that way, there is a realistic, very short way to get there. The two active civilian airports of Provideniya Bay (Russia) and Gambell, Al. (USA) are less than 50 nautical miles from each other.
To my knowledge no flights actually exist, but provided one had the necessary permits, even a private pilot in a puny little Cessna could make his way from America to Russia in about half an hour.
How to get there, realistically?
Russia is so far from just about everywhere that any person, who isn’t either a hard core anorak or a window-licking lunatic will take an aeroplane as primary mode of transport. If you have the money and don’t mind landing in a region that gives the term ‘remote’ a completely new meaning, you can charter a Bering Air flight from Nome or Kotzebue (no German can say that name with a straight face, btw) in Alaska to Anadyr or Provideniya Bay. The flight takes about 2 hours on a 19 seater ‘bird whacker’, but due to the date line crossing, your life shortens by a day.
Realistically however, most of us don’t fancy flying into a region where Johnny Polar Bear has the numerical advantage over Ivan Ivanovitch and every temperature above freezing is called a sign of global warming, so your destination is more likely to be one of the major cities. If you take a look at the schedule of your country’s major airports, most of them will have scheduled flights to Moscow and St. Petersburg. If you live in Antalya or Hurghada, it’ll actually be every second flight. Some might also offer flights to Ekaterinburg, Omsk, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk or Yakutsk.
No matter where in Russia you want to go, you can get there with a stop in Moscow.
Don’t be afraid of flying with a Russian airline. Those, who have a safety problem are banned from flying into the west anyway. If you need to travel within Russia on a domestic flight, stick with the major airlines – Aeroflot, S7 Airlines, Transaero, Rossiya, Ural Airlines and Yamal. Airlines to avoid are Gazpromavia, Izhavia, Orenburg Airlines, UTAir, Nordavia and Aeroflot-Don. If the advertised aeroplane is a Russian or Ukrainian model that isn’t named AN-140, AN-148, IL-114 or Sukhoi Superjet, don’t fly with them. Except for these relatively modern planes, most major trustworthy Russian airlines use western metal.
For those with a mortal fear of flying or hardcore anorak tendencies, there’s the railway. If you have three days of your life to spare, you can take the train from Paris all the way to Moscow without ever changing a train. For the real hardcore folk there’s a weekly connection from Frankfurt in Germany to Ulan-Bataar in Mongolia with stops in Warsaw, Minsk, Smolensk, Moscow, Niszhni-Novgorod, Ekaterinburg, Omsk and Novosibirsk.
And yes, I did the trip from Berlin to Omsk by train once. We left Berlin on Saturday morning and arrived early Wednesday night, so don’t try this at home, it’s bloody terrifying…
The Culture and the People – Stereotype Edition
If you believe popular western stereotypes, Russians are grumpy, militaristic, perpetually drunk people, who are either Oligarchs, Mafiosi, Prostitutes or KGB agents and ride to work on a dash cam equipped bear.
As with everything, the reality is a little bit different. First of all, one has to understand there is no such thing as ‘the Russians’. Actually Russia itself is two countries in one and the border is drawn along the Ural mountains. The western, European part is heavily influenced by western Europe, while everything else – Siberia basically – exists only on paper as far as the federal government is concerned.
For easy determination, where you are, look at the cars. If most of them are from Germany, you’re in the European part, whereas Siberia is easily identifiable by the high number of Russian cars and all the foreign makes are right-hand drive as they initially came from Japan.
Interacting with Russians can be a mixed experience. Don’t expect to get anywhere using English, especially if the person in question is older than thirty. For people, who are used to six grammatical cases for each noun, depending on which preposition it is coming with, two distinctly different words for each and every verb depending on what context it is used in, the relatively easy and well structured grammar of English is completely alien. Not to mention that Russian is phonetically so different from western indo-germanic languages that even a Russian, who knows the words will sound to a westerner as if he’s suffering from a really nasty throat ailment and is therefore very angry.
To give you an idea about the stark contrast between these two languages, which I both happen to speak: It took me about 3 hours to learn to pronounce ‘th‘ without drooling all over myself in the process, but it took me a week to learn all the various Russian hissing sounds without ending up looking like someone, who came third in a wet T-shirt contest.
So basically, you either learn some basic Russian or you need to be really good at conversing with your hand and feet. Especially among the younger people, you might find some that speak German, which is the most popular foreign language that young people take up in schools.
One of the most often expressed stereotype about Russians is their drinking. Generally speaking, Russians don’t drink much more than westerners, they just drink harder stuff. A 45 vol.% Vodka is considered lightweight stuff. But what you will rarely see are Russians, who are so drunk that they pass out in puddle of their own urine.
You are more likely to see something like that in a holiday resort that is mainly frequented by Germans and Englishmen – for short, Palma de Mallorca. Mindless binge-drinking is practically unknown in Russia and badly frowned upon.
If you are invited to a social gathering in Russia, the inevitable bottle(s) of vodka will end up on the table. Here are a few survival tips:
1. If you don’t want to drink – politely decline with the sentence “Spasibo, ya nikogda nye pyoo.“, which means that you don’t drink. Every Russian host will accept that and immediately offer a non-alcoholic beverage.
2. If you join them, keep in mind that Russians never drink without a toast. If it is your turn, it is ok to recite the toast in your language. Just raise your glass at the end and finish with “Na sdrovye“.
3. Whenever Vodka is served, there will be a myriad of food on the table – meat, pastries, salads, white bread. Observe your hosts. They will constantly be eating small amounts of food between drinks. Do so as well. You’ll be amazed how much that counteracts the effects of alcohol. I once found out after a night of drinking that with 5 people, we had consumed 6 bottles of vodka and 18 litres of beer and none of us were really wasted, so follow the example of your hosts and eat between drinks.
4. Once a bottle of Vodka has been opened, it will be finished. Russians would never close a half-emptied bottle and put it in the fridge. Once it is open, you’re in it to the bitter end.
5. Never ever accept Samogon – self distilled Vodka. You can easily identify it, because the hosts will set it on fire before drinking it to burn off the Methanol. It not only has often a percentage north of 60%, it will also give you the mother of all hangovers the next morning due to the amounts of fusel alcohols (amyl alcohols) in it. If you already have drunken something and the excuse of (1) doesn’t wash any more, say “ya nye bolshe mogoo“ (I’ve had enough). No self-respecting host will insist that you drink it. Knowing one’s personal limit is considered a sign of strength in Russia.
If you will mainly meet people from the European part, who were born at the time of or after the fall of the Soviet Union, just scratch everything I said. They’re likely to drink beer or alcopops instead of cleaning agent and they’re likely to speak some English, although you should be prepared for an atrocious accent and a grammar that redefines ‘vague’.
Never ever get into a discussion with anyone wearing a uniform – never. They’re likely to talk to you in Russian and if you don’t speak the language, just show your passport. Not only is this probably what they want from you in the first place, it will also alert them to the fact that you’re not Russian.
Thankfully passport means ‘passport’ in Russian, too.
… to be continued – Part II Russia and Motorsport