From Moscow to the Black Sea

A grand prix in Communist or former Communist countries was already a fixation for Bernie Ecclestone in the early 1980s. The former Formula 1® supremo was just one step away from obtaining a grand prix in Moscow as early as 1983. This was when the Soviet Union was in full swing, and the Russian capital was far from being open to internationality. Take the scandal caused by a small plane landing unperturbed in the middle of the Red Square, a stone's throw from the ultra-militarised Kremlin. The plane was piloted by a bright and optimistic youth: Mathias Rust, who was not spared from a few months in a Soviet prison. Yet the die had been cast: at the end of the 1980s came the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the entire Iron Curtain quickly crumbled. The Soviet Union itself evaporated into thin air with the onset of the 1990s, under the blows of the leader Boris Yeltsin.

But in 1983 Russia wasn't yet ready for F1®. The race should have been held in Moscow: the most daring fans enthused about hosting the race among the city streets, using part of the Red Square even.  Ecclestone tried at length and then settled for organising the first grand prix in a Communist country in Hungary, at the Hungaroring on the outskirts of Budapest, where F1® races have been held uninterruptedly since 1986. But Russia remained in his dreams. In 2001, another debut was closely missed when president Vladimir Putin approved the construction of a track close to Pulkovo airport. But the plan was smothered by organisational problems. Another attempt was made in 2003, when a circuit almost became a reality in a district to the north of Moscow called Molzhaninovsky. This time, the dream was crushed due to purely commercial issues and the Nagatino Island circuit (such was to be its name) never saw the light of day. 

The first international circuit which that actually happened in Russia was the Moscow Raceway. It’s situated in the district of Volokolamsky, approximately 80 kilometres west of the capital. This track is rather short (just 3.9 kilometres long in total) and has hosted Formula Renault, FIA GT, World Superbikes, and the World Touring Car Championship. Designed and built by Hermann Tilke – Formula 1®’s trusted architect, who has racked up a monopoly on new tracks – the circuit features over a dozen different layouts, in proximity of the city of Sycevo. However, not even this versatility and proximity to Moscow was enough to give it the nod for Formula 1®.  

The long-awaited arrival of grand prix racing in Russia only occurred in 2014. By then, Moscow’s hopes were dashed, with the chosen location in Sochi, on the shores of the Black Sea. Since then, Sochi has hosted the Russian race, as part of a multi-year agreement signed in the presence of Vladimir Putin, which has nonetheless been jeopardised by more than one commercial twist over the years. But that's another story...

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