CONTROVERSY AHEAD? Russia is scheduled to host its inaugural Formula 1 GP this weekend despite political unrest being rife in Ukraine. Image: AFP
SOCHI, Ukraine - Formula 1 will court further controversy when Russian president Vladimir Putin oversees the inaugural Russian Grand Prix here over the weekend of October 10-12.
There had already been calls, amid the Ukraine crisis, the MH17 atrocity and tough anti-Russian sanctions imposed by Europe and the US, for F1 to cancel its first race there but, mere days after the Japanese GP F1, it was setting up at the new Sochi Autodrom.
It's where the Winter Olympic Games were held early in 2014.
'HERE TO RACE'
F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, having skipped Japan to instead unveil the sport's next destination, the 2016 European GP at Baku in Azerbaijan, will be at Sochi.
As for controversial Russia this weekend, Ecclestone insisted to England's The Times: "We are happy, the sponsors appear to be happy, so we carry on. Nobody has spoken to me about this race or told me that we cannot go. The sanctions do not affect us and what we are doing is not illegal. The Russian people asked us to come here and that is what we are doing. We are putting on a grand prix - this is nothing to do with politics.
"As I have always said, we do not do politics. We are in Sochi to race."
The Times' motoring correspondent, Kevin Eason, says Putin, "a close friend" of Ecclestone, will also be there.Stay with Wheels24 for the 2014 F1 season – fresh reports every day.
Dr Andrew Foxall, director of the Russia Studies Centre at London's Henry Jackson Society think-tank, said: "F1 should reflect on the lack of global support for Putin's behaviour in Ukraine. If Putin appears to wave to the crowd, it will be on global television, and F1 will for ever be blighted by association with an authoritarian regime."