Concerns that this year's inaugural Russian Grand Prix may be in doubt because of the country's ongoing conflict with Ukraine have been played down by both the event's organisers and those hoping to add Azerbaijan to the F1 map next season.
Russian involvement in the Crimea – and fears that the issue could escalate - has led to rumours that October's visit to Sochi could be cancelled, with Azerbaijan named in the German media as a 'logical' replacement. However, both countries insist that there are no plans to put Russia on hold.
“The 2014 F1 Russian Grand Prix will go ahead as planned,” a statement from the Sochi organisers confirmed, “Preparations are very much on schedule and the venue will be ready this October to welcome all F1 teams and fans to the Sochi circuit, that runs in between the Olympic stadiums, against a unique mountain backdrop.
“The construction and operational readiness are on schedule. The team buildings and the medical centre are 100 per cent operational. The main grandstand is currently being completed and the track is being prepared for the final layer of asphalt.
“On 20 May we will announce details of the ticketing programme, informing fans where, when and how to purchase tickets (including payment methods and delivery options).
“We work in close co-operation with Formula One Management, the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile, international consultants and regular inspections are done by the experts. Our intention as a promoter has always been to host the world's best, elite motorsport event, which will be remembered for its inspirational quality, by both the teams and spectators."
A grand prix in Azerbaijan – apparently brokered by former F1 team boss Flavio Briatore - looks set to join the calendar next season after Bernie Ecclestone confirmed a deal to stage a race around the streets of the capital, Baku. Organisers, however, maintain that 2015 is the earliest the race would appear, regardless of the situation in Russia.
“A grand prix will take place in Azerbaijan in 2015,” a spokesman for Azerbaijan's minister of youth and sports, Azad Rahimov, told Russian publication Championat
, “Can it be in 2014? No, only in 2015.”
Ecclestone, meanwhile, has confirmed that Azerbaijan will replace Korea on the F1 schedule, the latter having slipped off the calendar this season after baulking at the cost of hosting the F1 circus. The 83-year old has suggested that 2016 may be a more likely starting point for Baku, due to the country's commitment to staging the 2015 European Games, although a late slot on next year's F1 planner may be possible.
"Baku has been signed," Ecclestone told Britain's Independent
newspaper, "It will start in 2015 and will replace Korea, [who] did a good job with the track but ... forgot to build all the things they wanted to build [around the circuit]."
The Azerbaijan race is thought likely to assume the Grand Prix of Europe title last used by Valencia to stage a second event in Spain.