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From Sergey Zlobin to Sochi - Russia’s route to the F1 grid

07 Oct 2015

Recent years have seen a rapid rise in Formula One interest in Russia, with the debut - and growing success - of both teams and drivers from the country. Proof of that interest was realised in Sochi last season with the very first Grand Prix on Russian soil. On the eve of this year’s race, we chart the milestone’s that paved the way…
September 2002 - Zlobin first in at Minardi

Hard to believe, but before little known racer Sergey Zlobin climbed aboard a Minardi PS01 in Fiorano testing in September 2002, no Russian had ever driven an F1 car in anger. Zlobin, now 45 and racing successfully in the World Endurance Series, took part in four further tests with the Italian team, but sadly a deal to make him Russia’s first F1 driver never came off.

March 2006 - MF1 race into the history books

After 15 seasons, the Jordan team name disappeared for good in 2006 following a takeover by Russian-born businessman Alex Shnaider and his Midland Group. Christened MF1 Racing in deference to their new owners, the Silverstone-based squad thus became the first Russian-registered F1 team, making their debut in Bahrain with Tiago Montiero and Christijan Albers at the wheel.

March 2010 - the new Russian premier

The next wave of Russian F1 interest was sparked by Vitaly Petrov, who in 2010 - some 60 years after the first world championship race - became the first man from his country to start a Grand Prix. Driving for Renault, the GP2 graduate qualified 17th on his Bahrain debut, before making an early exit with suspension issues. 

April 2010 - Vyborg Rocket races into the points

Four races into his maiden season and Petrov became the first Russian to score F1 points when he came home seventh in China after late passes on Michael Schumacher and Mark Webber. It would be the first of five top-ten finishes for the man dubbed the ‘Vyborg Rocket’ in a solid rookie campaign.

May 2010 - Petrov tames Turkey

Three races after securing his first points, Petrov notched up another milestone as he captured the first (and only) fastest lap of his F1 career at Turkey’s testing Istanbul Park. More than five years later, it remains the only one recorded by a Russian driver.

October 2010 - Sochi calling

Hot on the heels of Petrov’s success, a deal was signed between Russian promoters and the Formula One group to stage the country’s first ever Grand Prix. The venue selected? The Black Sea resort of Sochi, host city of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.

March 2011 - Petrov podium the perfect medicine

Petrov’s second F1 season got off to a bang as he captured his - and his country’s - first top-three finish with a hugely impressive drive to third place in Australia. With his Renault team still reeling from Robert Kubica’s horrific pre-season rally crash, the result also provided a major morale boost. 

March 2012 - Marussia make their mark…

Having acquired a significant stake in Virgin Racing at the tail end of 2010, Russian sportscar manufacturer Marussia fully rebranded the squad for 2012, thus becoming history’s second Russian-registered F1 team when they took the grid in Australia.

November 2013 - a new star on the scene

Petrov departed F1 racing at the end of 2012, but Russia didn’t have to wait long for a new hero. Fresh from sealing the 2013 GP3 crown - and a Toro Rosso race seat for the following year - 19-year-old Daniil Kvyat made his Grand Prix weekend debut in the United States, taking part in FP1 in place of Jean-Eric Vergne.

March 2014 - Kvyat proves a teen sensation

Not content with being among the youngest F1 racers in history, at the 2014 Australian Grand Prix Kvyat - still 19 - became its youngest ever points-scorer after bringing his Toro Rosso home in a creditable ninth place. The Russian’s record has since been claimed by another of Toro Rosso’s rapid rookies, current driver Max Verstappen. 

May 2014 - Bianchi hits Monaco jackpot

More history was made at the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix as Jules Bianchi scored the first points for a Russian-registered team, with an against-the-odds drive to ninth for Marussia. It had taken them (and predecessors Virgin Racing) 83 races to finally crack the top ten - and they haven’t returned since.

October 2014 - the inaugural Russian Grand Prix

Less than a month after its official opening, and in front of a capacity crowd, the brand-new Sochi circuit played host to the first ever Grand Prix on Russian soil. Sergey Sirotkin (pictured) became only the third Russian driver to take part in a race weekend, appearing for Sauber in FP1, but after qualifying a superb fifth - then the best ever grid slot for a Russian - Daniil Kvyat dropped to a disappointing 14th in his home event.

July 2015 - Kvyat raises the bar

Earlier this year Kvyat went one better than countryman Petrov by finishing a superb second in Hungary - the best ever result for a Russian driver. Speaking afterwards, the Ufa-born Red Bull racer dedicated his maiden podium to the late Jules Bianchi, who had tragically passed away the week before the event.