The track is well-placed to cater not just for Russian F1 fans, but nearby Finns. Igora Drive is located a 60 kilometre drive up a dual carriageway from St Petersburg’s Ring Road, and a little over the same distance from the Finnish border. Helsinki is a three-hour drive away.
The circuit has been designed – and is being constructed – to full FIA Grade 1 (F1) specifications. The 4.084 kilometre circuit would be the second-shortest track on the calendar after Monaco.
Officials are careful to play down talk the track is being positioned as the next home of the Russian Grand Prix. “We have not conducted any negotiations with Formula 1,” said Vladimir Vasiliev, an investor in the project and seasoned FIA Cross Country Cup participant, adding: “The rumours remain just rumours.
According to Vasiliev, “it was [FIA] representatives who recommended that we apply for Grade 1. It is something we weren’t planning to do initially.”
However, according to our guide, Michael Konovalov, Igora’s technical director and former FIA Truck Racing competitor, the original design by Tilke Architects had been to full F1 standards. The medical centre facilities exceeded FIA requirements. Minimal work would be required to make the circuit F1-compliant, such as modifying run-off areas and adding TecPro barriers at certain corners, he added.
Construction of the circuit is absolutely superb and to the high standards. The pit and paddock complex would shame some existing F1 venues – although the number of garages would need to increase from 24 to 30 – while the press centre is currently too tight for a full F1 media contingent. However the space exists to extend the current circuit length by 850m – as per the original plan – would create space for the required extensions.
With a 17m elevation change, a series of challenging Esses and a blind apex leading to the main straight the layout appears every bit as challenging as Red Bull Ring or Interlagos. Add in the lure of nearby St Petersburg as destination city and its four-hour proximity by high-speed rail to Moscow, and the question is: Why not Igora for the Russian Grand Prix?
Put all these factors to Vasiliev, and his response is rather different to that in the open conference, albeit with some guarded caveats: “That’s absolutely right, [in the beginning] our track was a little bit longer, but we can always come back to the original as we have plenty of land. I’m not sure if we want to or not, but we can.”
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Why, then, is Formula 1 (allegedly) not on Igora’s radar? A laugh, then: “Let us start at the beginning, here [in Russia] F1 we have in Sochi; Formula One Management itself does not want to have two races in Russia. This is the first explanation why we did not start negotiations with F1, yet.”
Note the ‘yet’…
“Second,” Vasiliev continues, “we do not want to start here from the most famous and well-known of the upper [motorsport] levels; we need to start slowly, then speed up to take the maximum points possible.” Chuckle at his racing metaphor.
So the idea of a Russian Grand Prix at Igora cannot be excluded?
“I would say if F1 would come to talk to us, we are ready to negotiate,” Vasiliev concludes.
Put the same line of questioning to Viktor Kiraynov, president of the Russian Automobile Federation and a member of the FIA World Motorsport Council, and the answer is carefully framed: “I don’t have this question in our schedule,” he told RaceFans, adding, “We are working now with Rosgonki company, the promoter of Russian Grand Prix.
“Now we are ready for Russian GP [at Sochi] in September 2020,” adds the former high-ranking politician.
According to a source with knowledge of the matter, there have been informal talks between Igora and Liberty Media via a third party, making Vasiliev’s comments pedantically accurate. The sticking points remain Sochi’s hosting fee (said to be around $50m annually despite a ‘haircut’ in 2017) and its contract, which currently runs to 2025.
Igora, a fully private enterprise, is prepared to pay no more than half the current rate; Liberty is not prepared to take a $25m cut, particularly given that fees elsewhere are said to be reducing. Based on current average fees, Sochi is worth two grands prix to Liberty with the logistics costs of a single race…
However you slice it, whether the Russian Grand Prix ends up at Igora Drive amounts to a matter of political and financial willingness.
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