Pit Stop – Sauber Roubles – By Lewis Brearley

This week saw the good news that the Sauber team had secured their future for the long-term.

The Swiss team had been in worrying financial difficulties, which during the past month became so serious that lead driver Nico Hulkenberg went unpaid and promptly announced he would be leaving for safer shores at the end of the season.

Major investment will come from a troika of Russian companies and involves partnerships in which Sauber will help promote Formula One in Russia and develop high-technology engineering solutions.

While deeper information is as of now unavailable, the deal is believed to be so substantial that several other F1 teams were known to be chasing it.

Not only will Sauber benefit from a large injection of funds, but also from the advanced knowledge of top scientists and engineers at the National Institute of Aviation Technologies.

As part of the deal, Sauber is expected to be contracted to give Sergey Sirotkin – a talented Russian driver – an F1 seat next year.

Currently running fifth in the championship standings of the Formula Renault 3.5 World Series, Sirotkin is Russia’s most exciting prospect in the sport. However at the tender age of 17 and with this being only his second year in a respected development series, worries are that he is being rushed into F1 ahead of time.

The Russian’s are eager to build up awareness of the first ever Russian Grand Prix in 2014, and believe that a competitive home driver is an integral part of a country’s interest.

However Sirotkin isn’t even contending for the FR3.5 title and it would be much more sensible for him to remain in the development series for a couple more years. This would allow him to step up to F1 as a more complete driver when he ready.

From this approach the Russians appear to be prioritising the financial success of their Grand Prix over the career of a huge talent. For 2014 the viewing figures may be higher, but for a country who doesn’t have much of an F1 fanbase – even casual ones – a talented driver would bring greater long-term advantages.

The growth of F1 in Spain is a perfect example of the success of this approach. Before Fernando Alonso arrived Spain had minimal interest in F1 and MotoGP dominated the motor-racing news. Alonso was managed carefully and nurtured through the lower levels, before being given a plum seat when he was ready for it at the Renault team with which he would win his two world championships.

F1 now has a huge following in Spain and Alonso is a sporting icon in his homeland on the same level as the top La Liga footballers and Rafa Nadal.

The most important thing that the Russians should learn from the Alonso-effect is that business in sport should always be symbiotic with a long-term, patient vision.

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