Three abreast, a Lamborghini, a Ferrari and a Maserati disappear over the crest in the long, wide expanse of a city boulevard before braking hard, coming down through the gears and stopping at a red light. This is the front row. They are joined by two black BMWs and a silver Audi before the lights change and they all howl away down the tree-lined boulevard towards the Kremlin. This is Moscow 2014.
The Russian Grand Prix, to be run on a new circuit at the Olympic Park in the Black Sea resort of Sochi in October, is the talk of the town – at least among the enthusiasts and those wealthy owners of imported supercars. It is not, however, the first time a Grand Prix has been held in this vast and intriguing country. In 1913 and 1914 a Russian ‘Grand Prix’ was held in the beautiful city of St Petersburg on the west coast, and the first of these was won by a Russian, Georgi Suvorin, in a Benz.
The race was abandoned after the outbreak of the First World War and was never revived in the days of the Soviet Union. A century later, and after many abortive attempts, President Vladimir Putin and Bernie Ecclestone have finally agreed to bring Formula 1 to Russia at the newly-constructed Sochi International street circuit. There is talk that Mr Putin, a man who clearly understands the power of globally televised sport, had wanted the race to be held in St Petersburg, his power base and place of birth.
This goes some way to explaining the presence of Russian drivers finding their way into the sport. First was Vitaly Petrov, who joined in 2010, followed by Daniil Kvyat at Toro Rosso and Sergey Sirotkin at Sauber, both of whom signed contracts when still teenagers. This, in turn, explains why the forthcoming Grand Prix is a hot topic amongst the cognoscenti in the capital city.
More significantly, there will be a Russian team on the grid. The scientist, and technology entrepreneur, Andrej Chegalov now has a controlling interest in Marussia, the team originally named after the manufacturer of Russian sports cars. Chegalov, it seems, is in it for the long term although, in common with the owners of Caterham, he seeks to receive a larger share of the sport’s considerable revenues.
The new hybrid cars have meant hugely increased costs and complexities, especially for the smaller teams who do not enjoy manufacturer support. For the Russian businessmen who have invested in both Marussia and Sauber the Grand Prix in Sochi will be a significant milestone in the country’s continuing quest to be a truly influential presence in such a high profile business.
Football and ice hockey remain by far the biggest sports in Russia and it will be interesting to see the response to the Grand Prix in October. Having just returned from Moscow, and spoken to some of those involved with investment in Formula 1, I sense a great deal of excitement and anticipation. Meanwhile the boulevards of the capital city provide an opportunity for the Kvyats and Sirotkins of the future to hone their skills in a variety of powerful machinery.
At times the city centre traffic resembles a NASCAR race while in rush hour it can take an hour or so to do a couple of miles. As you pass a huge statue of Karl Marx you cannot help but wonder what he would think of 21st Century Moscow, a powerful city in a powerful country that is now a big player on the world stage. October in Sochi will be interesting.