Igora Drive

Why Sochi may yet lose the Russian Grand Prix to Igora Drive

2021 F1 season

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During the run-up to the Russian Grand Prix RaceFans revealed the event may be forced to move after the 2020 F1 season due to planned changes at the Sochi Autodrom.

The new Igora Drive circuit, which will welcome the DTM in May next year, has been mooted as a potential replacement. RaceFans visited the venue last week to find out more.

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.

Philipp Eng, Rene Rast, Daniel Juncadella, DTM, Igora Drive, 2019
The DTM will race at Igora Drive next year
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.

Start, Sochi Autodrom, 2014
F1 has raced at Sochi since 2014
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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Author information

Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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36 comments on “Why Sochi may yet lose the Russian Grand Prix to Igora Drive”

  1. It’s a bit short and a bit flat 17 meters in elevation change isn’t much, but It’s not a street circuit so that’s a plus for a start.

    1. That’s still a whole lot more than the 1,9 meter elevation change at Sochi

    2. Maybe you have a misperception about how much 17 metres actually is. Silverstone is at 11.3 metres.

      Clearly that doesn’t matter then. It seems people like to overplay the significance of it. Monza is as flat as a pancake, yet it produces year after year.

  2. Excuse the absolutely horrendous drawing for a sec, but could they do something like this to make it a bit longer for F1: https://i.imgur.com/B3dWUER.jpg
    Would also make the final corner a bit tighter to help overtaking somewhat

    1. If you google pictures of Igora Drive you will find some of the initial longer version. Your proposal looks a bit like the fiddely bit they added to Bahrain a few years ago.

  3. Great work as always, Dieter! Very interesting and insightful.

    Hope they go for an option like this instead of another street circuit.

    1. Yeah, but it’s not much longer than a street circuit. Pit straight is too short and the esses right before it ensure no one will be passing each other.

    2. It’s not like Rencken is ‘RaceFans’. He’s a freelancer and RaceFans is just one of his employers. I see his articles (word for word) at other places as well.

      1. Maybe that’s the difference between paying what we do to Racefans and what we would if Dieter’s (@dieterrencken) articles were exclusive. Would you prefer to pay a higher amount, e.g. triple, as your membership to Racefans? Actually I do wonder if we should pay more … but that’s not the point, the point is whatever we do pay when one of the regular journalists distributes their work to other outlets then we would need to cover that income generated if Racefans didn’t allow it. Of course, we are assuming Dieter’s articles were actually sold to those websites, they might have been stolen.
        Nevertheless, since I don’t frequent those “other places” I don’t have a problem with articles on this website (abridged or in full) appearing elsewhere. At the very least we get to read articles from someone on site at every GP instead of just a few, and if other websites gain viewers from our journalist sending stuff there then that’s great too because indirectly we get paid too.
        The important thing is F1 gains because of these articles, and that leads to more fans, and that benefits us.

  4. Another venue in the middle of nowhere – 77 km from St Pete. No infrastructure around there, maybe some wolves howling nearby and the weather there is Greta Tunberg’s wet dream – last time we visited St. Pete we experienced +12 degrees Celsius at the end of June. There is some joke concerning local weather there – “Yesterday the inhabitants of St. Petersburg were horrified by the strange nature phenomenon – all of sudden the clouds cleared and they were shocked by the sight of a big bright shining disc in the sky!” I’m sick of Moscow Raceway which was 90 km from Moscow. Why they just don’t make city race in Moscow?

    1. hahaha funny comment

    2. Last time I was in St Petersburg it was 22 Celsius in the middle of May. Not sure if current weather experience is any guide to the future. And 77 km is not more than one hour away.

      1. You remember last summer ? it was a Thursday !

    3. Something you forgot to note – +12 was in the late night. It is +20 on average in the day time.
      https://yandex.ru/pogoda/saint-petersburg/month/june?via=cnav

      But both circuit won’t fit f1. Too short for modern F1. Sochi is a good circuit. Just needs to be narrower – 10-11 meters wide, so 90 deg corners would be much slower.

  5. I REALLY don’t like bringing politics into sport, but there has to be a line somewhere.

    I know you could pick almost any other country on the F1 world tour and pick holes in their behaviour / moral compass, but I think Russia stands way over the line:

    Can anyone explain to me how we are even allowed to have a sporting event in Russia?
    Repeated drug cheating infringements in other sports.
    Annexation of neighbouring countries
    Murdering people on the streets of the UK…

    Just asking. I’m surprised it’s not covered by a sanction from somewhere.

    1. You COULD pick holes in the behaviour of other countries, but as Russia seems to be accelerating their quest whilst even the middle eastern venues seem to be making some progress, it’d be a hard sell!

    2. richEQ Certainly a valid question and I have no answer but where do they go? F1 is so expensive to run there is a limited number of countries able to hold events so we are left with:-
      China and it’s nearly total lack of transparency zero democracy and imprisonment of ethnic minorities.
      Bahrain, Azerbaijan, Argentina, Vietnam, *Saudi Arabia (slice and dice) all in the top 50 of least transparent countries and for human rights and political corruption.
      USA definitely going through troubled times and of course how can I leave out my own country the melanoma capital of the world Australia. Our treatment of refugees as criminals simply because they arrive via boat instead of plane is pathettinc and wrong. We have treated our pacific neighbours with contempt and continue to act towards native Australians as if they are as lower beings, our politicians aren’t that flash either.
      *possibly getting a GP in the future.

      CORRUPTION PERCEPTIONS INDEX 2018
      The index, which ranks 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption according to experts and businesspeople, uses a scale of 0 to 100, where 0 is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean. More than two-thirds of countries score below 50 on this year’s CPI, with an average score of just 43.

    3. Because the “Russia is bad stuff” is complete nonsense. Russia is bad but Angela Merkel and Germany are in business with Russia on natural gas pipelines. The EU openly trades with Russia. If Trump wins another 4 years, it is more likely that F1 would cancel the US race before cancelling the race in Russia.

    4. Please stop your nonsense, apartheid ameriKKKa is far worse, why aren’t youstarting there? You can’t name anything Russia has done even close to the Iraq war. Just stop please.

      1. I can. Russia didn’t just invade other countries, it also annexed their territory. That’s worse.

        You’re welcome.

        1. Oh, you mean like “manifest destiny? Please keep your biased political nonsense to yourself. Your brand of white supremacy is no better or worse than the rest, wet her it be ameriKKKan, british, Russian or otherwise.

    5. A recent survey conducted by Liberty said that the majority of fans were very happy with Russia.

  6. why does it need to be longer? short tracks are great. more laps = more action. plus it’s better for fans at the track.

    1. The extension would make both S/F and back straight about 400m longer allowing higher speeds and longer braking zones.

    2. @frood19 Yeah they could just use a 1/2 mile oval.

    3. @frood19 The number of laps might be higher, but the total race distance is roughly the same regardless of the track length since the number of laps is selected based on the shortest amount of laps needed to reach at least 305 km, therefore, doesn’t automatically guarantee more action. It’s the overall race distance that matters, not the specific number of laps.

      1. He said it’s better for fans at the track – if you see the cars go past 50 times instead of 40, surely that’s a better thing?

      2. @jerejj that’s a very simplistic way of looking at it. most, if not all tracks, have specific ‘action’ points such as the esses at interlagos, where most of the overtaking happens. because of the relatively short lap at interlagos, we get to see the field fighting it out at the esses 72 times (or so) – if we were racing at the old track, we’d see action at the esses less often.

        it’s one of the disadvantages of spa – it’s an amazing track but you only see the cars 44 times (less if there’s a red flag (they only raced 36 laps in 2001 after burti crashed) or a safety car).

        1. @frood19 Yes, Spa might have the lowest number of race-laps due to its distance requiring a minimum 44 laps around the circuit to reach 305 km, but it’s also an overtaking-friendly track.

    4. Short tracks with multiple overtaking opportunities per lap(like austria) are great, this place would be more like Monaco and not as good as Hungary, unless it rains every year.

      1. @megatron yeah, it’s hard to tell much from the photo, but it does look a bit hungaroring-esque. however, that wouldn’t be terrible, as it’s produced some great races in recent years. it’s still surprising that hungary produces like this, for those of us with longer memories anyway.

  7. Most “private” companies in Russia doing such big projects are held by Putin’s chums.

    “Igora” (without Drive in name) is the name of company and all-season “resort”, which is owned… you guessed – by Putin’s chum.
    And “Drive” is located just nearby.

    “Goodbye, Sochi, Goodbye” is almost a happened fact already.

  8. Is it just me, or does the track look suspiciously similar to Barcelona?

  9. This looks even worse than Sochi, just put a Finnish GP on the calendar, quick before Kimi goes! No overtaking opportunities here, only good thing is how accessible it could be for the Fin’s.

  10. I got rid of Valencia…..

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