The F1 circus arrives this week in Sochi to complete the seven-year deal agreed back in 2010 between ex F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone and President Vladimir Putin.
For decades like a dog with a bone, Ecclestone relentlessly tried and came close several times to a deal with Moscow. In early 2010 times were moving in Ecclestone direction as Putin was awash with oil revenues pre the global price crash and forthcoming economic sanctions.
Putin had an ambitious strategy to attract international sporting events to promote the new dynamic Russia in a favourable light on the world’s stage. He was successful in winning the 2014 Winter and Paralympic Olympic games to be staged in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi. He also secured the 2018 FIFA world cup with Sochi being one of the host cities. So, it was announced in 2010 Russia would host a GP on a newly constructed circuit in Sochi beginning in 2014.
As usual, Ecclestone kept the financial details of the deal secret, but it was rumoured Russia would pay in the region of £31million a year for the right to stage the race. Oh, how the owners of the older established European circuits must have wept knowing Ecclestone would soon come calling looking for them to “pay up or else.”
So, the F1 show comes to town welcomed by Putin and his cronies. Everyone including the fans will, as usual, enjoy the race whilst at the same time ignoring some unpalatable truths about the host country.
Russia stands accused of human rights abuses including the jailing of political opponents, curtailed press freedom, and the lack of free and fair elections. Putin holds the view that “pursuing policies that embrace multicultural and sexual diversity are obsolete in our societies.”
Then there are the profoundly serious issues of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and their military interventions in Eastern Ukraine and Syria.
Closer to home we have had the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in London, the alleged interference in the 2016 US election, the Novichok nerve agent attack in Salisbury, and the recent poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
Ecclestone had no issue with Putin’s Russia or indeed any other country regardless of their reputation. So long as it suited his goals and he received a large cheque then it was fine by him.
It would seem Ecclestone was not alone.
Sochi has been good news for Mercedes on and off the track.
When Bernie and Vlad’s bromance cumulated in the Sochi deal Mercedes would have been delighted as Russia was at that time considered to be a promising growth market.
This was subsequently put in doubt after the 2014 economic sanctions took effect, these included the European Union’s economic sanctions that had been strongly advocated by the German government of Angela Merkel.
Mercedes nevertheless chose to ignore their own government’s stance and with their very deep pockets took the long-term view to further the best interests of the Daimler AG group.
Wind the clock forward to April 2019 when it was announced Mercedes-Benz had officially opened a new car factory in yes you guessed it, Russia!
Mercedes has invested more than €250 million in this new factory to produce 25,000 cars per year for the Russian market. Putin must have been relieved, to say the least with this foreign investment coming at such a difficult time for him especially given the fact that the countries oligarch’s money was flowing out of the Russian economy at an alarming rate.
Putin personally signing off on the deal, which allowed the regional government to offer Mercedes “unspecified conditions” previously not available to foreign investors.
In 2020 Putin is on the offensive in Sochi with the race to be attended by approx. 30,000 fans.
To this end, Putin announced in August that Russia has successfully developed a Vaccine and in a move to politicize vaccines Russia has named the vaccine “Sputnik V” after the 1957 launch of the first space satellite by the Soviet Union.
Putin informed state-run television according to Reuters, “I know that it works quite effectively, forms strong immunity, and I repeat, it has passed all the needed checks.”
There is scepticism in the wider world with scientists concerned with the efficacy of the vaccine trials and the potential harm of starting a vaccination programme at such a stage.
Putin is of course having none of it and is using the opportunity to portray his hard man image and Russian power to the watching world.
All aided and abetted by F1.