The Russian GP, a brief history: The first race to carry the title Russian Grand Prix was staged back in 1913 in St Petersburg, with the race won by local racer Georgy Suvorin driving a Benz 29/60 PS (Benz, as in future Mercedes-Benz).
The following year a further race was staged, with Germany’s Willy Scholl claiming victory behind the wheel of a Benz 55/150 HP. Added to the success of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in the 3 Formula One Russian Grand Prix to date, Mercedes can claim to be unbeaten at the Russian Grand Prix for more than a hundred years!
Attempts to have a round of the formula one season held in Russia date back to the early eighties, when Bernie Ecclestone tried to get a street race off the ground in Moscow, with the race even figuring on the provisional calendar for 1983. Non-committal support from Soviet leadership scuppered that race, but that didn’t stop Bernie’s dream of a Grand Prix in Moscow, with a proposal to build a new purpose built racing track at the Tushino Airfield near Moscow being announced in 1987, although this project would also fail to materialise, and as the Soviet Union collapsed the chances of a Grand Prix in Russia faded. The dream to hold a race persisted, but lack of finance prevented any tangible signs of a race happening, as through the 1990s a number of proposals to create race tracks to stage a Russian Grand Prix continued to surface, but all failed to materialise.
Into the 2000s, and attempts to finally bring a Grand Prix to Russia stepped up a gear, with both Moscow and St Petersburg looking to get the prize of a place on the F1 calendar. In Moscow there were plans from 2000 to develop a new track at Nagatino Island on the Moskva river which were supported by the Mayor of Moscow, but ultimately collapsed on financial grounds.
There were also abortive talks of building a track near the Pulkovo Airport in St Petersberg in 2001, then further attempts in Moscow, with an ambitious development dubbed the ‘Monaco of the North’ proposed in 2003 falling by the wayside as the contractual reality of dealing with Bernie Ecclestone put paid to the developers hopes. Further proposals in Moscow also fell by the wayside without any hint of a track actually being built, until finally one project appeared to succeed, with work beginning in 2008 on a Hermann Tilke designed track dubbed the Moscow Raceway. It seemed there was finally a home for the Russian Grand Prix, but the closest the track has come to seeing Formula One was getting a slot on the calendar for the World Series by Renault, with the series opening the track for business in 2012 – where among other things it witnessed a pair of home victories in the Formula Renault Eurocup 2.0 for current Russian F1 star Daniil Kvyat over title rival Stoffel Vandoorne – although Vandoorne would go on to claim the championship after a season long battle! No F1 race ever materialised at the track however.
The Soviet Union may not have lasted, but Bernie Ecclestone did, and in 2010 a deal was finally struck to stage a Russian Grand Prix in the city of Sochi for 2014. The deal would not have been possible without heavy government backing, and Hermann Tilke was brought in to design a course through the Olympic city of Sochi, and in 2014 we finally had a race, well, F1 came to town anyway!
The race itself was over almost before it started, Nico Rosberg locking up in spectacular fashion into Turn 2 as he attempted vainly to halt team-mate Lewis Hamilton’s title charge on the opening lap, with Rosberg flat spotting and having to pit. Nevermind, such was Mercedes dominance and the lack of tyre wear at the track that Rosberg managed to drive the entire race bar that opening lap on a single set of tyres and come home in second place behind Hamilton, with the result sealing the constructors title for Mercedes. Vladimir Putin presented Lewis Hamilton with the winner’s trophy and Mercedes powered cars filled the top 5 places in the race, with Valtteri Bottas claiming the final podium position for Williams being followed home by the two McLarens of Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen.
In 2015, practice was curtailed first due to a diesel spillage on track, and further after a massive shunt for Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz, who was ultimately cleared to race despite missing qualifying. The race itself saw another comfortable Hamilton win for Mercedes ahead of Vettel’s Ferrari, with Vettel lucky to avoid hitting a marshall who ran on to the track to retrieve debris from Carlos Sainz’s Toro Rosso, while Rosberg dropped out with a mechanical failure, with the race long battle between Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and Williams Valtteri Bottas providing plenty of entertainment , with the last lap collision between the pair allowing Sergio Perez to claim an impressive podium place for Force India. After being hit by controversy after spraying a hostess in the face on the podium of the Chinese Grand Prix earlier in the season, Lewis Hamilton showed he is an equal opportunity champagne sprayer as he started to celebrate a little too soon, catching Vladimir Putin’s jacket in the spray!
Last year saw Nico Rosberg take an easy win for Mercedes from Lewis Hamilton who had to start 10th due to engine gremlins preventing him getting a time in Q3, while local hero Daniil Kvyat ensured that neither Red Bulls nor the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel would be able to challenge Rosberg for victory after clobbering Vettel into his team mate at Turn 2 and then finishing the job in Turn 3! Raikkonen and Bottas managed to avoid each other on track and come home in third and fourth place for Ferrari and Williams respectively!