Will the Russian bear roar in 2010?
Russia: The world s largest country.
For years Formula One has tried, but failed to make an impact in this former-Soviet heartland. Not even in the formative years of today, when excessive commercialisation and globalisation is the norm.
Of course it not that Ecclestone hasn t tried. In the early 1980s he had almost reached an agreement to stage a Grand Prix near Moscow, only for talks to collapse and the then-FOCA president turned to the Hungarians to host the first race behind the Iron Curtain.
In 2008 hopes were once again resurrected when it emerged that Ecclestone had again been in negotiations with various bodies about hosting a race in the provincial town of Fedyukino. Although the track is said to have been designed by Herman Tilke, there has yet to be a deal to bring the sport to the country.
Therefore against this backdrop, it is even more remarkable that Vitaly Petrov has found his way onto the Formula One grid and made history in the process. The 25-year-old will be seen as a surprise choice for the Renault team, who will undoubtedly benefit from the income which he is speculated to be bringing. Some will ask why Nick Heidfeld, the experienced hand, wasn t given the drive. Certainly experience would be seen as crucial to Renault during its time of transition.
However that is not to say that Petrov is not deserving of a chance in the world s top motor racing series. On reflection the Russian has had a solid racing career, with his four GP2 race victories among the highlights. Petrov s career has also shown versatility with victories ranging from the rally world, the ice circuit and even in while competing in a VW Polo.
In 2009 Petrov was undoubtedly overshadowed by Romain Grosjean in the Barwa Addax team. Not only did the team set itself up for a French-Swiss victory, at sometimes it appeared that this was the case for the entire championship. However when Grosjean departed mid-season to go to Renault, Petrov did not let his team fade into the background. He carried on and took the fight to the eventual series winner, Nico Hulkenberg.
How fitting is it then that the Russian will take the place of the man who was once destined for F1 stardom?
Petrov is a fighter – having had to battle his way into the attention of the motor sport world – and there is nothing to say that this fighting spirit will dessert him once in Formula One.
At this point it is impossible to judge where Renault is in comparison with the rest of the field. Although the team continued work on the R30, the ominous threat to its future will surely have brought disruption to the Enstone-based team.
If reports are to be believed then the ban on refuelling may be an omen for Renault. It would appear that their engine is the most fuel efficient of all in Formula One and this will allow them to start the race considerably lighter than some of the other teams on the grid – most notably the Ferrari which rumoured to be the least efficient.
Last season Renault was handicapped from the onset, left behind by the double-diffuser. The team now claim that they have got on top of these issues and are ready to move back towards the front.
But will this be enough for Robert Kubica? Does he have the patience to play an instrumental part in Renault s revival or will he use it as a stepping stone at the end of his contract?
Under Eric Boullier the team have signalled its intent to move out from the shadows of Briatore era. With a new livery, new and ambitious owners and an exciting driver line-up the future may be bright for Renault.