The decision to cancel the Russian Grand Prix due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “does not make sense”, former Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone told AFP on Wednesday.
The race scheduled for September 25 in Sochi — the final year the city was due to host the race before it moves to Saint Petersburg — was cancelled by Formula One last Friday.
Ecclestone, who over several decades transformed the sport into a global multi-billion-dollar commercial giant, said he did not understand how the FIA reached its decision.
Ecclestone was pivotal to F1 heading to Russia, with the Black Sea resort of Sochi first hosting the race in 2014.
“It does not make sense whichever way you look at,” he told AFP by phone. “There is no war in Russia to my knowledge so if it took place it would make no difference to anybody.
“It would not affect anyone at all.
“This idea of trying to punish Russia this way in a sporting sense is not going to punish (Russian President Vladimir) Putin at all.”
Ecclestone, 91, said losing the Russian Grand Prix for this year was just a gesture and one that will do nothing to change Putin’s mind.
“The race would not matter to him (Putin) or affect him adversely,” said Ecclestone.
“What is he going to do, stop the invasion?
“It is all ridiculous, all these things they keep threatening to do. ‘Oh we must do something to help’ but they don’t do anything but talk, as there is nothing anyone can do.”
‘Make no difference’
The sporting world has punished Russia heavily since Putin launched the invasion last Thursday.
Saint Petersburg lost the right to host European club football’s showpiece Champions League final and the men’s Volleyball World Championships has also been taken away from Russia.
Russia has also been expelled from the 2022 World Cup — they were in the qualifying play-offs — and its athletes are also facing being frozen out of other major events taking place this year.
The country’s figure skaters, who won six medals at the Beijing Winter Olympics including two gold, cannot compete in the world championships in Montpellier, France, scheduled for March 21-27.
Similarly, their track and field athletes, including those who compete as Authorised Neutral Athletes (ANA), are barred from competing in the indoor athletics world championships (Belgrade, March 18-20) and the outdoor edition later this year (Eugene, Oregon, July 15-24).
Motorsport UK has also moved to stop drivers with Russian licences from competing in the UK, meaning Haas F1’s Nikita Mazepin will not be able to take part in July’s British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
However, with American team Haas debating whether to retain their Russian sponsor Uralkali, where Mazepin’s father Dmitry is a non-executive director, it places a question mark over his future in any case.
Ecclestone, for his part, says the call by the FIA on Tuesday to permit Russian drivers to still compete, albeit under a neutral flag, was the right one.
Other sports like tennis and swimming have taken the same line. The Russian Paralympic team also got the go-ahead on Wednesday to compete at the Beijing Winter Paralympics under a neutral flag.
“It was absolutely the right decision by the FIA,” said Ecclestone.
“However, if Mazepin was not driving it would make no difference to anyone. It certainly is not punishing Putin by stopping him.”
Ecclestone was also far from certain Motorsport UK could prevent Mazepin from competing at Silverstone.
“If he is contracted to the Haas team when the British Grand Prix takes place he can drive.”