Today Russian tanks entered eastern Ukraine signalling an escalation of the conflict there. Against the backdrop of war in Europe, the business of Formula 1 is trivial. But the situation there could have a very real effect on the staging of the Russian Grand Prix, and lead to a shake-up of the F1 calendar.
We can’t expect F1 to take a moral stance against Russian aggression, given the sport’s history of jumping into bed with whichever dubious regime offers the most money. The first Grand Prix at Sochi was held in 2014; the same year Russia annexed Crimea.
However, severe sanctions promised by the West could make the continued relationship between Formula 1 and Russian money untenable. It’s likely F1 is already making contingency plans should Sochi need to be called off.
F1 venues pay large hosting fees to Formula 1 for the rights to hold a Grand Prix. The proposed sanctions would cripple the Russian banking sector and freeze Russian assets held in Western bank accounts. It would be all but impossible for organisers to continue to do business with Liberty Media, a US based company and commercial rights holder of F1.
There’s also the question of whether Russian promoters will even be able to raise the millions of dollars in hosting fees. Russian businesses are already feeling the effects of the falling ruble and domestic equity markets.
F1 announced last year the Grand Prix will move to Saint-Petersburg’s Igora Drive circuit from 2023 onwards. That means last year’s thrilling race may have been the last at the Sochi Autodrome.
After waiting 100 years to have a Grand Prix in Russia again, a cancellation would be a devastating blow for fans of motorsport in Russia, but an understandable move nonetheless.
It’s possible a cancellation may lead to the return of one of the venues which stood in for Covid-19 affected races in 2020 and 2021. If it can find a substitution for the 25th of September slot it would mean F1 can continue with its plan to have a record 23-race season.
While Imola already has a date on this year’s calendar, fellow Italian circuit Mugello could step up. With two races planned in Italy already though, Portugal’s Algarve Circuit or Turkey’s Istanbul Park look like more likely candidates.