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OCTOBER 15, 2010

Russia finally inks F1 deal

Bernie Ecclestone has signed a seven-year deal for a Russian Grand Prix in Sochi between 2014-2020.

The deal was announced by Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin and then inked by F1 commercial rights boss Ecclestone and Krasnodar regional governor Alexander Tkachev.

Ecclestone has been trying to secure a Russian Grand Prix since the early eighties when he met Leonid Brezhnev to discuss plans that ultimately fell through. On shaking hands with Ecclestone, Putin said: "I know that you even met Brezhnev to negotiate a deal to have a race in Russia way back then. Finally, after decades of negotiation we have come to an agreement to make it happen."

More recently, with Moscow and St Petersburg the favoured options, Ecclestone came close to a Russian deal with Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov in 2002 but those plans also ultimately hit the buffers over financial issues.

Sochi, however, is the venue for the 22nd Winter Olympics in 2014 and the use of common infrastructure has reduced the potential cost of a grand prix while also providing for a new network of roads and hotels. The track will be built close to the Olympic Park in a new deal said to be worth around £125 million.

Sochi, home to Nobel prize-winning physicist Andre Geim and former world tennis No1 Yevgeny Kafelnikov, sprawls along the shores of the Black Sea and, at 90 miles, the greater Sochi area lays claim to being the longest city in Europe.

Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Kozak said that the first Russian race could be delayed until 2015 if the logistics of hosting both the grand prix and the Olympics in the same year prove too challenging.

With next year's Indian Grand Prix taking the F1 calendar to 20 events and with Austin, Texas due to be part of the schedule in 2012, the Russian race and a projected new event in Rome will add to the pressure on existing events. The South Africans are also reportedly interested in a Durban-based project.

There is likely to be paddock resistance to increasing the calendar beyond 20 races, although earlier this year, Ecclestone joked, "We're not dropping anything. It's 20 races, getting ready for 25!" At least they thought he was joking...