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A Grand Prix in Russia?

EVERY so often there is an announcement from Russia that everything is ready for the country to host a Grand Prix. At the start of the 1980s Bernie Ecclestone wanted a Grand Prix in Moscow and to this end had meetings with the top level Soviets - including President Leonid Brezhnev - but in 1983 Ecclestone gave up his attempts to organize a race in Moscow and began to look at other Eastern European cities - the result was the Hungarian GP in Budapest.

Since then there has been a great deal of talk about a race in Russia but with the collapse of the Soviet Union, followed by the political and economic uncertainties of recent years, nothing has ever happened. Consequently the recent announcement that there is to be a Russian Grand Prix at Tula in 2002 must be treated with caution.

Tula is a city of half a million people, 80 miles to the south of Moscow. It is the capital of the Tula province - one of the 89 units of the Russian Federation. Tula was the major ironworks in Russia and later became an important steel town, while also specializing in armaments. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the economic crisis means that the city is trying to promote its precision engineering.

Money, however, is a problem with the Russian government saddled with around $160bn of foreign debt and so public funds are not available for the construction of a motor racing circuit. The promoters of the idea of a race in Tula say they have found backing from private enterprise both at home and abroad and that the project has been approved and construction of a racing circuit will begin shortly with the aim of being ready for a Russian GP in 2002.

Despite the problems being faced by Russia there are signs that business in the country would like to use Formula 1 to promote their products. The recent announcement that oil company Lukoil is to sponsor a Formula 3000 team should not be overlooked.

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