Russian GP on track despite Ukraine crisis
LONDON (Reuters) - The inaugural Russian Formula One Grand Prix in Sochi remains on track for an October debut despite concern raised by the crisis in Ukraine, according to local promoters and the sport's governing body.
"I have no doubts the race will go ahead," race promoter Sergey Vorobyev told Reuters after meeting Formula One officials at last weekend's Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona.
"We have construction being done at a good pace, we have the operational and sporting preparations also being done very extensively. There is no doubt from any point of view that the race will happen."
International Automobile Federation (FIA) president Jean Todt, speaking separately to reporters, said that currently there was "nothing that should change the running of the calendar".
Media speculation about the race, to be held on a street circuit around facilities used for this year's Winter Olympics, began after Moscow annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine in March.
The crisis is the worst between Russia and the West since the Cold War, with the United States and European Union imposing sanctions - including asset freezes and visa bans - on a number of individuals and companies.
The Russian round of the world superbike championship that had been scheduled for Moscow Raceway on Sept. 21 has already been cancelled.
Series organisers said that decision was reached because "the current political situation affects the capabilities of a number of key partner companies essential to run the event".
Aleksey Sheian, minister for strategic development and investments in the Krasnodar region around Sochi, was also in Barcelona and told Reuters the race had to be seen as a purely sporting event.
He added that postponement of a project strongly backed by President Vladimir Putin was "not even on the agenda, no way".
Vorobyev said work in Sochi was progressing well and had picked up speed as soon as the Olympics finished in February.
"We have entered a very active phase in the construction," he explained. "We are doing the final interior works on the team buildings, pit building and main grandstand.
"We are preparing for laying the final layer of asphalt which will be done quite soon. We are confident that in August we will have the circuit completed."
The promoter said a decision on how many temporary stands would be installed around the circuit would be made by May 20 when details of the ticketing programme would also be announced.
Organisers plan to sell 55,000 tickets with overseas visitors expected to account for about 20 percent of the crowd.
Richard Cregan, who was chief executive of the Abu Dhabi circuit and is now acting as a consultant to Sochi organisers, told Reuters he had no doubts about the facility.
"It's going very well at the moment," he said. "There's no question it will be tight but it will be ready, it will be complete.
"We had a good meeting with the FIA and (race director) Charlie (Whiting) for the inspections and all that so that's all going to be scheduled soon.
"Charlie's quite happy and obviously he'll come and inspect and then set up a second inspection date and go from there."
Asked in a Spanish Grand Prix news conference about the race, principals said they had travel arrangements in place and would follow government advice nearer the time.
"If we go there it will be a second home race for us so it's pretty important," Marussia team boss John Booth, whose team have a Russian-licence and sponsors, told Reuters.
Sauber and Toro Rosso also have Russian partners - with Russian rookie Daniil Kvyat racing for the latter team - while tyre supplier Pirelli has oil major Rosneft as its single largest shareholder.
"Russia is for us a very important business market and will remain so. If we go to Russia we'll be happy," said Pirelli motorsport head Paul Hembery.
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)
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