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GP Week : Issue 207
19 GPWEEK.com // 19 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: sometimes, racing doesn't seem to matter at all. The civilised world stands aghast at the shooting-down of a Malaysian aircraft over ukraine with the loss of 289 lives. The leaders of half a dozen nations, on the basis of well-founded technical information, have not hesitated to implicate the Russian government in the atrocity, either directly or as a supplier of the weapon which destroyed the aeroplane at altitude. Meanwhile, the Russian GP, listed on the calendar for October 12, looms ever closer. So. Should Formula 1 be venturing to Sochi, the resort on the Black Sea where the Russians have spent a fortune to stage both the recent Winter Olympics and their forthcoming maiden Grand Prix? It's a good question, and one which responsible journalists must not hesitate to ask. Some of my colleagues in Hungary went in search of answers at the FIA's Friday press conference in Hungary, though they must have known in advance that any responses would likely be compromised because certain F1 teams have links, both through ownership and sponsorship, not only with Russia but with shady régimes elsewhere. Christian Horner, Red Bull's head honcho, was fractious in his response. As he pointed out: "When we sign up for the championship we put our faith and trust in the promoter and the FIA, and we will attend those races unless they deem it unnecessary for us to be there. "All of you [media] will be at those races, the vast majority of you. Why? Because you're either passionate about the sport or because you earn a living out of the sport. I think it's wrong to make Formula 1 a political statement or subject when we are a sport." Up to a point, Christian, say I. You're quite correct in pointing out that the teams and their personnel are contracted to attend the races and venues negotiated on their behalf by the Commercial Rights Holder. And yes, they can only back out if either the CRH or their own national governments advise against travelling to the venue. But you're wrong to imagine that a journalist is automatically disbarred from having a political opinion by the fact that his income comes from F1. Let's face it. Neither Bernie nor the FIA has a particularly honourable record in such matters. Their sense of smell was particularly lacking when it came to racing in South Africa during the apartheid years, a period when all other major sports stayed well away from the Republic. The stench of corruption has, if anything, got worse in recent years. Need I mention the Turkish GP and the political grandstanding for northern Cyprus which took place on the podium there? Or the races in Valencia and Korea which disappeared after lavish sums of taxpayers' money had stuck rather visibly to the fingers of the people who had so enthusiastically promoted the merits of motor racing at those outlandish venues? Even if we give Bernie the benefit of the doubt by praising him for wanting to promote our sport in new venues, does anybody believe that Azerbaijan, whose ambitions to join the F1 party in 2015 were confirmed this week, will last any longer than it takes for a local politician or two to fill his boots? The inspiration for recommending the race to the government is claimed by none other than that paragon of racing virtue called Flavio Briatore. Equally interesting is the note from Transparency International, the ethical overseer of clean government, which ranks the former Soviet republic 127th out of 177 countries, on the same level of perceived corruption as Russia. Oh yes, Russia, that other new best friend of F1. Out there in eastern Ukraine, thuggish military types, wearing anonymous unmarked uniforms but speaking Russian and carrying Russian side-arms, are still making things difficult for the international search teams trying to sift through the wreckage. Putin utters increasingly implausible explanations for the cause of the crash, and can get away with it because so many countries in western Europe rely on Russian oil, just as teams like Sauber, Marussia and Toro Rosso wouldn't be able to go racing if it weren't for the rouble content of their budgets. Dammit, the owner of 13 percent of the stock in tyre supplier Pirelli is the Russian oil conglomerate Rosneft. Since Mr Putin is using sporting events to give his regime, not to mention himself, a cuddly image which belies his dictatorial intolerance of what most of this publication's readers would regard as representative democracy, could this be the moment to offer some resistance? Maybe the journalists with whom I have consorted for so many years will choose to show Christian Horner that our passion really does extend to demonstrating the disgust that is not shared by Ecclestone and Todt. Sochi would be an excellent place to make such a stand. According to correspondents who reported on the Winter Olympics, the town is a fabrication, with high fences obscuring the wretched poverty of the local populace. Thanks to Soviet-style travel restrictions, which require all visitors to fly in via Moscow, it is not an easy venue to reach. How about a few dozen journalists announcing in advance that, just this once, they're going to follow their consciences and make a protest by covering the race from home? One hardly imagines that Sky and the other TV broadcasters will stay away, and we all watch the TV from the Media Centre anyway. You never know, but a sympathetic publisher or two might agree to such a scheme. There is another scenario which could stymie Sochi. Back in 1985, when the last two GPs of the season were the ones in South Africa and Australia, the airport handlers in Adelaide demonstrated that trades unions can sometimes be really useful. Disgusted to learn where the previous GP had taken place, they refused to handle any of the freight being flown directly from Johannesburg until they had received assurances that the South African GP would be the last-ever until the Republic mended its racist ways. Would it be too much to ask the unions at airports in Britain, or even in Texas (where the next race after Sochi takes place) to adopt such a principled stand? Far-fetched though such a move may appear to be now, I suspect that indignation is about to start growing. What a boost it would be for the image of our sport if the fury swelled into positive action. LOOSE MORALS iN A WickED WORLD OPINION OPINION MIKE DOODSON