F1 Cancel Russian Grand Prix Amid Criticism From Drivers

F1 Cancel Russian Grand Prix Amid Criticism From Drivers
By Eoin Harrington Updated

The Russian Grand Prix has become the latest sporting event to be cancelled in light of the ongoing Russian military invasion of Ukraine.

The harrowing scenes from Eastern Europe have already led UEFA to move May's Champions League final from St Petersburg, and opposition to Formula 1 visiting the country in September continued to grow throughout the week.

Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel and defending champion Max Verstappen were among those who spoke out against the race at pre-season testing in Barcelona this week.

On Friday, Formula 1 confirmed its position that it would be impossible to hold this year's Russian Grand Prix.

Russian Grand Prix: F1 makes decision to cancel race

Thursday brought the advance of Russian military forces into Ukraine, and devastating scenes in Kyiv, Kharkiv, and across the country. The horrifying footage shared from the streets of major Ukrainian cities shows the grim reality of the situation.

With F1 pre-season testing ongoing in Barcelona, the sport's governing body held emergency talks with the ten team principals on Thursday evening over the fate of the 2022 Russian Grand Prix. A press release on Friday confirmed the sport's decision to pull the race, with the sport saying, "It is impossible to hold the Russian Grand Prix in the current circumstances."

Though it appears clear that all stakeholders are uncomfortable with racing in Russia this year, the wording of the statement does appear to leave room for the race to be reinstated if the situation changes in Ukraine between now and September. Such a move would be unlikely to go down well with fans or drivers alike.

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Several of the drivers had spoken to the media about September's scheduled race in Russia ahead of the meeting. There were strong comments from four-time champion Sebastian Vettel. Aston Martin driver Vettel called for the race to be cancelled but said that, if that decision had not been made, he would refuse to race at the Russian Grand Prix regardless.

Obviously I woke up to this morning's news shocked. I think it's horrible to see what is happening.

If you look at the calendar, you'll see we have a race scheduled in Russia. For myself, my own opinion is that I should not go, I will not go. I think it's wrong to race in the country.

I'm sorry for the innocent people that are losing their lives, getting killed for stupid reasons and a very, very strange and mad leadership. I'm sure that's something we will talk about but, as I say, I'm so shocked to see what's going on.

We will see going forward but I think my decision is already made.

Vettel, who has finished on the podium three times at the Russian Grand Prix, is one of the directors of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association.

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Defending champion Max Verstappen added his voice to the debate around the GP, saying: "When a country is at war it is not right to race there."

Going forward, F1 is likely to move quickly to formalise the race cancellation, and bring in a replacement race. The sport's directors are determined to hold a 23-race season this year, and so a backup race - likely in Istanbul - will surely be pencilled in for September 25.

Formula 1 has held the Russian Grand Prix at the Sochi Autodrom since 2014. That inaugural race took place against the backdrop of the Russian military's advance into Crimea, and the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 over Ukrainian airspace by a Russian missile.

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The influence of Vladimir Putin on the sport has been an uncomfortable aspect of the race over the past eight years. Putin has attended the majority of the Formula 1 races held in Russia, and even presented the trophies on the podium in 2015 and 2018.

Vladimir Putin presents the trophies on the podium at the 2018 Russian Grand Prix. Photo: Shutterstock

The country's influence in the sport has grown year-on-year since that first Russian Grand Prix. Russian driver Daniil Kvyat made his debut that same season, and took three podiums for Red Bull and Toro Rosso over the course of six seasons in the sport.

Just last year saw the debut of controversial Russian driver Nikita Mazepin for Haas. Mazepin is the son of Dmitry Mazepin, majority shareholder of Uralchem Integrated Chemicals, a major Russian manufacturer, who took over as the title sponsor of the Haas team.

Haas launched their car for 2022 with the colours and design of the Russian flag running through the livery. For the final day of pre-season testing in Barcelona on Friday, Haas dropped the Russian branding from the car, running a plain white and black design.

The team said that no further comment would be made on team partnership arrangements.

It is hard to see a future for Uralkali in the sport. In a rather shocking image shared to the Kremlin's Twitter account on Thursday - while Russian forces advanced further into Ukraine - Mazepin's father was pictured in a business meeting with Vladimir Putin.

Haas' decision to remove Uralkali's branding from their car must be commended. The team have found themselves in dire straits financially in recent years, and the funding from the Russian firm has kept them afloat. However easy the decision may seem, the team faces a bleak future if the funding from Uralkali disappears.

The potential departure of Uralkali will also raise questions about Mazepin's future in the sport. Having failed to impress whatsoever during his debut season, it is unlikely the Russian would keep his seat without the financial backing. Pietro Fittipaldi would be the frontrunner to take his seat in the event Mazepin is dropped.

The decision made by Formula 1 to cancel the Russian Grand Prix is the obvious and correct choice, and is unlikely to be the last sporting sanction against Russia in light of recent events.

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