MOSCOW Tail-enders Marussia hope to take advantage of Russia's growing interest in Formula One and boost their tight budget after signing a sponsorship deal with a Russian betting company on Thursday.
Andy Webb, chief executive officer the Russian-licenced team, did not reveal the financial details of the one-year deal with Liga Stavok (Betting League) but saw it as just the start of many good things to come.
"Everyone knows that we have the smallest budget of all the teams in Formula One, and quite frankly, I'm proud of that," Webb told Reuters after formally signing the contract in a luxury central Moscow hotel.
"It costs us 1.25 million pounds ($1.89 million) per week just to stay in Formula One, to maintain this level. Obviously if you want to move up you need a much bigger budget," he said.
The deal had been announced before the Australian season-opener on March 17 and Liga Stavok have their branding on the MR02 car as well as team and driver apparel.
"It is a critical time for Marussia so any sponsor is good news but adding a Russian company is a much more significant factor for us than any amount of money it could bring," added Webb.
"The first one is always the most important and I'm glad that Liga Stavok has made that historic breakthrough because it's always tough to get into Formula One."
With Sochi staging the first Russian Grand Prix in October 2014, a few months after the sub-tropical Black Sea resort hosts the Winter Olympics, experts predict that more and more Russian companies will want to get involved in the glamour sport.
Marussia have already announced an agreement with another Russian partner, currency brokerage InstaForex, who become an official supplier and had branding on the car at last weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix.
"Right now Russia's interest into Formula One is very low but it will undoubtedly grow bigger and bigger," said Webb, whose British-based team entered Formula One in 2010 as Virgin Racing before a name change for 2012.
Russia's first and only Formula One driver Vitaly Petrov, who brought some sponsors with him, lost his seat at backmarkers Caterham at the end of last season.
Marussia Motors are a niche Russian sportscar maker, founded in 2007, who acquired a majority shareholding in the team in late 2010.
"We've been trying to bring more of Russia into Formula One and more Formula One into Russia," said Webb, whose team have started the season looking more competitive than in the three previous years when they failed to score a point.
"Obviously I can't bet on Formula One races but if I was a betting man I would bet on us beating (fellow strugglers) Caterham this season," he said with a wry smile.
"I would also recommend placing a bet on Marussia scoring their first point this season," he added.
(Reporting by Gennady Fyodorov, editing by Alan Baldwin)