FIRST RUSSIAN GP: The Sochi Autodrom will host the inaugural 2014 Russian GP on October 12. Image: AP/ Lesya Polyakova
SOCHI, Russia - Jules Bianchi's horrific 2014 Japanese GP crash has thrust driver safety into the spotlight ahead of Russia's Formula 1 debut on Sunday (October 12) but race organisers say they are well prepared.
Even if most of the marshals at the Sochi circuit are Russian, and will be working at a grand prix event for the first time, they are supervised by experienced officials brought in from Australia's CAMS motorsport body.
Richard Cregan, who works closely with local promoter Sergey Vorobyev and was previously chief executive of the Abu Dhabi circuit, recognised Bianchi's collision had added to the pressure.
Cregan told Reuters at the circuit, whose fenced layout snakes around the Olympic Park used for the 2014 Winter Games in February, that it was there anyway.
Cregan said: "I think there's always a pressure with the first race to make sure everything is of a standard that's even beyond what is required by the federation. We are very lucky to have somebody like (race director) Charlie (Whiting) there who is so attentive to detail. He's been here many times and very willing to come out at very short notice to help and do inspections."
"You can never relax on safety. It's always something you have to ensure," added Cregan. "Everything that we've done here is according to the ffederation's regulations and standards."
Cregan said the local marshals had done a huge amount of training, including at places like Moscow raceway, and had attended races around the world to see how other venues operated.
Bianchi, who drives for the Marussia team and is also a Ferrari tester, sustained severe head injuries after crashing into a recovery tractor at Suzuka in a collision.
The federation has ordered a full enquiry, while questions have been asked about the decision to allow the heavy vehicle into an exposed position while cars were still lapping on a wet track and in fading light.
Cregan said everything was ready at the circuit, where teams were setting up their garages on Wednesday, and ticket sales had been strong.
The race, held up as part of the legacy of the Olympics, is a showcase event for Russia with President Vladimir Putin expected to attend on Sunday but it has also been overshadowed be the crisis in Ukraine.
Cregan said there had been no discernable effect on ticket sales: "About a month or six weeks ago, they (sales) just took off. I think it was people waiting to make sure the circuit was finished and everything was going to be OK. There was lots of discussions about sanctions and all these things and then suddenly, when all that seemed to be in the past in relation to our race, then we were selling between 500-800 tickets a day.
"I think we are going to have about 55 000 people here in total. Our hospitality has gone well, obviously the first to sell out was the general admission and main grandstand."
Stay with Wheels24 for the 2014 Sochi GP weekend