The second modern Russian GP is nearly upon us. The Sochi Autodrome on the coast of the black sea played host to one of the most mind-numbingly featureless races in recent memory last year – Nico Rosberg locked up at Turn 1, Lewis Hamilton took the lead, and that was all she wrote.
It could be a dull track, but didn’t we think that of Bahrain back in 2010 when they used the long circuit? They blocked off the endurance section of Sakhir, and fast-forward to 2013 and 2014, and you have the two best races of the year. Who knows – Sochi could come in to its own eventually.
Anywho, for our build up to this year’s event (or just something for you to scroll through in case the race this year is just as ‘dry’ as last year) we thought we’d take a look at all things Russian in the sport we love. Let’s go!
Well, kinda. This Russian youngster was due to take one of Sauber’s seats in 2014 (no doubt with a bit of contempt from Giedo van der Garde along the way) but eventually Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez found their way into the graphite Swiss-mobiles, and Sergey was forced to accept the test driver role.
The media, the public, and especially Sebastian Vettel, voiced concerns that Sirotkin was too young to be signed for an F1 seat at the age of 18, which is practically a pensioner compared to then 16-year-old Max Verstappen’s recruitment last year.
Unfortunately for him though, he only got a taste of Formula 1 practice as a sort of novelty run in Russia, because, y’know, being Russian and all that.
Since then, he’s gone on to tear it up in GP2, and he’s currently third in the championship behind the mighty Stoffel Vandoorne and recent F1 graduate Alexander Rossi, both of whom flanked him on the podium as he took his first victory in Silverstone this year.
Sirotkin may yet get his chance in an F1 seat; he’s got the pace, and, it seems, the money too.
Jordan’s second incarnation didn’t exactly make their mark in F1. After buying the beloved Jordan team in 2005, they re-branded in a red, black and silver livery and a Russian group’s moniker; Midland F1.
Unfortunately the cars were never really close to being competitive. Cristijan Albers and Tiago Monteiro managed a grand total of zero points between them in 2006, but couldn’t quite break their duck – the best of the year being ninth and tenth at the sodden Hungarian Grand Prix.
After just fifteen races, they were sold once more to Spyker, and known as ‘MF1 Spkyer’ for the final three rounds.
But it wasn’t all bad at MF1 – they were the first to give Adrian Sutil a drive, with the German fulfilling FP1 services in Hockenheim, Magny Cours and Suzuka.
That’s not bad, is it? They gave a guy that almost got a podium that one time his first break!
Ah, let’s move on.
Now we’re getting somewhere. Once dubbed ‘The rudderless Russian’ by Martin Brundle after breaking his steering wheel (and a 150m marker board) during the 2011 Malaysian Grand Prix, Petrov has proven to be Russia’s first genuinely good Formula 1 driver.
He was drafted in alongside Robert Kubica in 2010 to complete a “don’t-mention-the-war-Basil” combination of Russia and Poland at Renault, and it was a combination that actually did rather well.
gorgeous yellow beast Renault R30 proved to be pretty handy in most situations, and propelled Vitaly to an Alonso-esque start at only his second F1 race in Australia, where he gained seven positions after qualifying eighteenth.
It was a pretty tough choice in 2010 to decide rookie of the year between himself and Nico Hulkenberg, and five years later, I still haven’t made up my mind. Clearly, Renault tipped the Russian as he was retained, while Williams dropped The Hulk in 2011.
Petrov’s second season was to be even better, starting in the (third) best possible way with a podium in Melbourne behind Vettel and Hamilton. It marked history in Formula 1 – the first ever podium for a Russian driver.
He and Nick Heidfeld (drafted in to replace the injured Kubica) performed pretty solidly throughout the season but it couldn’t keep him at Enstone for a third year, and he hopped from the team that became Lotus, to the team that was Lotus.
That must have been bloody confusing at the time of signing in 2011. This is how I imagine it went:
Agent: “Alright Vitaly mate? It’s your agent here. Listen – you interested in driving for Team Lotus again in 2012?”
Petrov: “Are they buying Renault out properly? Cool! Yeah, I’d love to.”
Agent: “Yep! Renault and Team Lotus will be working together again in 2012. Should be great.
Petrov: “Amazing! I must go tell my family! Thank you. *Hangs up*
Agent: “Mr Ferndandes, I give you one new driver. You’re welcome. Now, about that name change…”
After teaming up with another ex-Renault driver, Heikki Kovalainen, for a stint at Caterham in 2012, he bowed out with a total of 64 points from three seasons. Most recently, he raced in DTM for the 2014 season, though was unable to pick up any points.
With the way his season is going in 2015, if this list was made a little later, he may have topped it. For now, though – much like his surprise podium in Hungary – he’s finishing second.
When I first heard that Toro Rosso were signing another Dan, I though three things:
- Firstly, what’s with Red Bull and having drivers with the same name but different spelling? (See Sebastian/Sebastien in 2008 and Sebastien/Sébastien in 2009 for more details)
- Also, why didn’t they go for Antonio Felix da Costa?
- And finally, a GP3 driver going straight in to F1? Gulp.
Happily I was proved wrong about all three. Well, apart from the Dan thing, that still is really confusing. But Da Costa found his feet in Formula E, and the young Russian has settled in to Formula 1 brilliantly. Sure, there were a couple of rookie mistakes here and there however. He tangled with Perez in Hockenheim last year, and he did have a huge tumble qualifying his Red Bull in Japan.
However, he’s managed to out-pace Daniel Ricciardo a few times this season, and after all he was the guy that showed up Sebastian Vettel in 2014, so that has to count for something. Dan with an ‘e’ has a few more points on the board as of right now, but Kvyat’s second place in Hungary and excellent fourth in Monaco must be praised. That’s where the Red Bulls have thrived in 2015, and Dan with an ‘i’ came out on top in those two races, although Ricciardo got one back in Singapore.
The duo seem very evenly matched, and if Red Bull can sort out some power for 2016, I look forward to comparing the two again.
The name may be different, and the ties to Russia cut, but the spirit of this little team that could lives on in Manor F1.
Everyone at Badger fell in love with Marussia. They’ve supported our events in the past and been massively kind. But it’s not just the generosity that makes Marussia so special to us.
It’s the Minardi effect all over again – an amazing group of people who just want to go racing on a shoestring budget (well, for an F1 team at least) and give opportunity to some young guns eager for their first taste of Formula 1. That’s really what it’s all about.
Marussia has been a story of heartbreak and jubilation since it began. They started off with some money as Virgin F1, but when Richard Branson pulled the plug they just about coped with their namesake Russian sports car company to fall back on. They were beaten by HRT in 2011, and 2012 was a struggle without KERS, but in 2013 they passed Caterham in terms of performance, finishing tenth. As everyone knows, they then went on to score the only points scored by any of the ‘young teams’ in 2014’s Monaco Grand Prix.
The ultimate low followed, with Jules Bianchi’s enormous accident in Suzuka.
A week later in Russia they built Jules’ car and displayed it in the garage as the ultimate mark of respect, while Max Chilton raced for the both of them.
They almost faced obliteration in the latter stages of 2014, but ex-Sainsbury’s boss Justin King was “justin” time (ha!) with throwing them a lifeline for 2015.
With the rebranding as Manor for 2015, I suppose that’s where the Russian part of this story ends, but 2016 looks rosy for the team, with a chassis a year and a half in the making, a Williams rear end, and Mercedes power unit. I don’t want to count chickens before they hatch, but here’s hoping it’s proof that nice guys don’t always finish last!