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AUGUST 24, 2003

Who is Roman Abramovich and why would he buy an F1 team?

Roman Abramovich is one of the richest people in Russia. He has made an estimated $6bn from his investments which he has acquired in a number of previously state-owned businesses. The companies were sold off by the then government of Boris Yeltsin and many of them ended up in the hands of former Communist party figures. Abramovich is only 36 and was too young to be involved in the privatization program that followed the fall of Communism but he was a protege of Boris Berezovsky, a businessmen who funded the election campaigns of President Vladimir Putin but has since fallen from grace and now lives in the UK. Abramovich eventually bought Berezovsky's stake in the oil company Sibneft and built up shares in Aeroflot and Russian Aluminium. Abramovich was later elected to the Duma, the Russian parliament, and has since become the governor of the Chukotka area of Siberia.

Recently Abramovich began selling off all his Russian assets and says that he is planning to leave the country. He has sold his shareholdings in Sibneft for $3bn to the rival Yukos company and his shares in the aluminium company will raise another $3bn. He has reinvested some of the money in the purchase of Chelsea Football Club and was a guest at the recent European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring. It is not clear what he is trying to achieve with his investment in sport but it does not seem to be related to any of his previous businesses.

It is also not clear why Abramovich, once known as the Kremlin's "banker", has decided to leave the country but it may be that he has decided to get out because of pressure from Putin's government to transform Russia's large businesses into more independent multinationals.

Whether or not Abramovich is serious about F1 is another matter. It is in the interest of several people in F1 to give the impression that there is interest in buying their teams but there is no evidence at the moment of any serious interest although F1's power broker Bernie Ecclestone may be doing deals which are not immediately obvious at the moment. Ecclestone is keen to get F1 into Russia, which is a big new market for the sport.