Joe Saward interestingly reported earlier this morning on his Grand Prix blog that the Russian government will be backing Renault this year through its Lada car company. Currently, Lada is part-owned by Renault (25%) and the state-owned Rostekhnologia corporation (75%). The news comes as Renault will debut Formula One’s first Russian driver, Vitaly Petrov, later in the month at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Saward reports that Russian Prime Minister, Vladmir Putin, is a longtime friend of Petrov’s father and the two men worked closely in Saint Petersburg before Putin took up a role with the staff of then-President, Boris Yeltsin.
The Lada brand hasn’t fared well over the years and the cars they produce have a less-than-favourable reputation in overseas markets. More recently, Lada have struggled to compete with imports and Putin is believed to be wanting to improve the brand and gain more recognition in western Europe.
Renault’s Formula One team have endured their own troubles in recent times, with the race-fixing scandal that saw Flavio Briatore, Pat Symonds and Nelson Piquet Jr. shamed in the international press. This resulted in title sponsor ING backing out of their deal early, closely followed by many of the teams other sponsors. When the R30 was launched in February, it looked decidedly devoid of logos.
The Renault team has already been partly sold off to investors, and this tie-in with Russia could see further investment, made all the more alluring to the sport’s key people as the country is under-represented in Formula One. There have occasionally been talks of a Russian Grand Prix and as recently as 2008, Hermann Tilke has been involved with designing a suitable circuit. Currently, a deal to host a grand prix hasn’t happened, but with the possibility of further involvement and investment in the sport from Russia, Bernie Ecclestone could be persuaded to reignite discussions.