Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo, Sochi Autodrom, 2021

Why Formula 1 will leave Sochi for Igora Drive after next year’s Russian Grand Prix

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In October 2019 RaceFans revealed the Igora Drive motorsport and leisure complex situated 50 kilometres north of St Petersburg was in the running as a future Russian Grand Prix venue.

Significantly, the circuit also lies around 120km from the Finnish border. That country’s capital Helsinki – home region to more race and rally world champions than any other, at least on a per capita basis – is a mere four-hour car trip away.

At the time I had returned from a combined DTM launch and fact-finding mission, having there posed the Formula 1 question when I realised the circuit could, with extensions to its undulating layout and a few more garages, comply with FIA Grade 1 licence standards. Best of all, these had been planned for but not included at time of construction as the developer did not believe that the grand prix would move from Sochi.

The Sochi circuit was commissioned as part of the 2014 Winter Olympics project, with access roads and facilities repurposed for F1 after the International Olympic Committee left town. The main issue is, though, that F1 visits but once per year while the circuit’s national and track day events don’t warrant a full-on F1 paddock; on the flipside these buildings cannot be converted to office and residential blocks given they do duty for a fortnight each year.

Igora Drive changes
Report: Igora Drive building new track extension for first F1 race in 2023
It therefore makes sense for F1 to move to Igora Drive, enabling Sochi to concentrate on local series and commercialise its facilities particularly given the immediate area is earmarked for development as a music and cultural centre. At the time official denials from both sides were the order of the day; then, in June last year, Formula 1 president and CEO Stefano Domenicali revealed the race would move to Igora Drive from 2023.

“I am pleased to confirm following joint intensive work with our Russian partners and detailed assessment of Igora Drive [that] Formula 1 will be racing at that amazing circuit from 2023,” he was quoted by the circuit as saying. “I am impressed by Saint Petersburg and believe the Russian Grand Prix at Igora Drive will be an incredible event.”

The Sochi F1 project was originally controlled by an entity known as Omega, 100% owned by the local government, which of course restricted its activities to the region. Approximately three years ago the ownership changed to a three-way split between the regional government, sponsor VTB bank and the FIA-endorsed Russian Automobile Federation. The resultant company was known as RosGonki, which means “to race” in Russian.

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The restructure “untied Sochi’s hands”, said Omega general director Alexey Titov in Sochi in an exclusive interview, in turn making it possible for RosGonki to expand into other areas – including Igora Drive’s F1 project. Thus, the grand prix will be promoted by RosGonki wherever it is staged, making for a seamless transition from Black Sea to Baltic Sea in 2023.

The reason for the change is one of “evolution”, says Titov: “We want Formula 1 to develop within Russia, which is important. Sochi has played a major part in the development of motorsport in Russia, because obviously when you have a week of Formula 1, you have the ability to connect and interact with the best in the sport.

George Russell, Williams, Sochi Autodrom, 2021
Sochi’s track gets little use outside F1 race weekends
“Having done this for eight years – obviously next year will be the ninth – that’s one of the reasons why it seems like a reasonable choice. It is purely evolution; we need to do the next step.”

Titov acknowledges that Igora Drive requires upgrades – the FIA’s circuit inspector (and F1 race director) Michael Masi inspected the venue and made recommendations, including lengthening the 4.86km track by 20% and adding half a dozen garages. Grandstand capacity, currently 10,000, will need to be increased. Although accommodation in the area is scarce, Titov says sufficient highway and transport links to St Petersburg exist, including a railroad.

“It’s going to be an interesting challenge:” he admits, but says, “Because logistics is key to success in any event it’s not mission impossible,” referencing the challenges faced by Dutch Grand Prix in Zandvoort a month ago as proof.

Although rumours suggest the two Russian venues could alternate, Titov says it is unlikely given the reasons outlined above, while two grands prix per year are, at this stage of F1’s development in the country, highly unlikely. Moto GP in Sochi? Titov admits talks did take place but that the circuit’s layout and close walls mean that major reconstruction would be required, whichever direction it was run in.

“We do tourist rides with motorcycles as part of our commercial programme,” he says, “and everyone’s super excited [about the rides], but we find the circuit too dangerous to race. We’ve seen what can happen when something goes wrong. So GT racing, touring racing, possibly WEC, things like that.”

Nikita Mazepin, Haas, Sochi Autodrom, 2021
Paddock Diary: Russian Grand Prix part one
Thus, after this weekend F1 will travel to Sochi just once more before Russia’s round heads well north to a region many consider a more natural home in Russia given the international standing St Petersburg enjoys. Plus, the city ticks F1’s ‘destination’ box better than most while being less than three hours by air from major European cities – and an hour’s flight from Finland.

Titov will not be drawn on a projected date for the event but does not deny that the third weekend in June would be perfect.

St Petersburg’s website contains some interesting information about that period:

“The White Nights are a curious phenomenon caused by St. Petersburg’s northerly geographic location. It stands at such a high latitude that the sun does not descend below the horizon [far] enough for the sky to grow dark. In fact, night becomes curiously indistinguishable from day, so much so that the authorities never need to turn the city’s streetlights on.”

Could this be F1’s first night race without circuit lighting?

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11 comments on “Why Formula 1 will leave Sochi for Igora Drive after next year’s Russian Grand Prix”

  1. Dave (@davewillisporter)
    26th September 2021, 8:42

    Looks like Sochi. Dunno what the car changes will bring in 2022 but you can bet by 2023 when this race is run they’ll be worse for following as the teams find ways to add dirty turbulent downforce back. Always have and always will. The last sector will likely mess up overtakes. Just join the last straight to the start finish straight with a hairpin and eliminate that loop, otherwise it’s Sochi!

    1. Specsavers wants you to call, you missed your last appointment

  2. Sochi is such a horrible track. Just look at the picture that says ‘Sochi’s track gets little use outside F1 race weekends’. Concrete walls with fences. 100% the way F1 does not need to go, but looking at Formula E we probably will

  3. That new track section is horrendous. What the hell is that 17-18-19th corner section?

    1. Looks like Catalunya!

  4. Funnily, the Sochi-Adler location is more central for global travel, but I don’t mind. Northern Hemisphere summer is effectively a must for climatic reasons, meaning June or July because of summer break timing.

    1. Actually not, trust me in 8 years I have never been able to fly there directly whereas all my (five) flights to StP have been direct.

  5. Minor correction – RosGonki literally translates as RusRaces :)

    Aside from that – happy for this move, Sochi was a dreadful track and the whole enterprise is but a giant monument to corruption in the minds of many of my compatriots, including mine.

    Relieved to hear lengthening of the Igora Drive was ordered by Masi – would hate to think somebody went and did what they’re doing there voluntarily

  6. And nothing of value was lost. Sochi feels like a wasted opportunity. Aside from the circuit layout itself, it just feels like a concrete wasteland.

  7. As someone living in Finland, weird to see the White Nights mention. It gets dark in Helsinki during the summer, you have to be near the Arctic Circle to actually have significant amount of light during the summer nights.

    But as a late-evening twilight-event? Would be nice.

  8. Formula1 should not be happening in Russia, effectively sanctioning and encouraging acceptance of a totalitarian, gangster led regime.
    In fact Formula 1 shouldn’t run anywhere as it is an utterly pointless exercise in self adulatory excess, seriously bad for the environment and in point of fact, incredibly boring.

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