London - Bernie Ecclestone has said the Russian Grand Prix will go ahead despite gathering opposition to the race after the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17.
Ecclestone is a personal friend of Vladimir Putin and said he will “100 percent” honour his contract to stage a race in Sochi on October 12 in the face of disquiet among teams, sponsors and politicians.
The situation within the sport is particularly delicate because Malaysian energy company Petronas, title sponsors of Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes team, have established a R32 million fund for the families of the 298 victims of the disaster.
Senior team figures privately told Sportsmail that they are uneasy about going to a race linked so closely with Putin, who is suspected of supplying pro-Russian militants with the surface-to-air missiles that shot down the plane.
Conservative MP David Davis, a former foreign minister, said: “Whilst I’m not particularly in favour of cancelling sports events at the drop of a hat, here you’ve had the murder of 298 citizens. It can’t conceivably be defended as a reasonable act of war, and therefore I think that Formula One should reflect that.”
Menzies Campbell, the Lib Dems’ former foreign affairs spokesman, said: “There will have to be an assessment of the suitability of this race nearer the time to decide whether it should be held. Public opinion all over the world will find it difficult to accept Mr Putin taking all the plaudits for this grand prix in Russia.”
HONOURING THE CONTRACT
Ecclestone, however, is insistent that the race should go ahead, having signed up the Russians on a five-year deal worth an estimated £120 million (R2.14 billion).
Putin personally invited Ecclestone, a friend since the idea of a race in St Petersburg was mooted a decade ago, to the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics in February.
Ecclestone said: “I don’t see any problem with going. We are not involved in politics. We have a contract with them. We’ll respect it 100 percent and so will Mr Putin, I’m sure. He’s been very supportive.”
The FIA, the sport’s governing body, are keen not to get dragged into the dispute, citing their charter to be non-political.
A spokesman said that while they were “awake to the situation” they did not “want to mix politics and sport.”