The circuit that finally delivered a Formula One race to Russia, Sochi Autodrom (Russian: Сочи Автодром) winds its way around the complex used for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Designed (almost inevitably) by Hermann Tilke, at 3.7miles/5.7km it is the third longest circuit on the racing calendar, behind Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium and Britain's Silverstone. It features permanent pit and paddock facilities and a first half which can be used independently year-round for racing, while the full course continues along public roads between the stadium and other Olympic venue buildings.
While F1 has dominated the Sochi schedules for its initial years, it has also played host to the FIA WTCR and Russian national championships. Following the cancellation of the Grand Prix and the ban on competition in Russia enacted by the FIA for its categories, F1 and the WTCR are now history, leaving Sochi to continue only with domestic events.
Built to great fanfare, the Sochi Autodrom fulfilled a long-held desire by Formula One promoter Bernie Ecclestone to deliver a race in Russia. As far back as the early 1980s, plans for a street race in Moscow were mooted under the banner of the Grand Prix of the Soviet Union. These advanced sufficiently far to actually be listed on the provisional calendar for 1983, before bureaucratic barriers intervened and the race was dropped. Other attempts failed to get off the ground at all, including one near to the Pulkovo Airport which had the personal backing of Vladimir Putin in 2001. Another attempt was made in 2003, when a circuit in the Molzhaninovsky District of Moscow was approved by the city government only to founder when commercial agreements could not be struck.
Sochi gets the deal done
While Moscow Raceway may have looked an ideal prospect and indeed was constructed to FIA Grade One standards, it was the resort city of Sochi that finally made the Russian Grand Prix a reality. In August 2010, Vladmir Putin announced to a meeting of business leaders in the Black Sea resort that a deal had been struck for a new circuit to be built, in order to host races from 2014 onwards.
A budget of nearly $200 million was allocated by the Russian Government for circuit, which had a seven year contract to host Formula One and the junior GP2 and GP3 series.
Unlike other circuits which have been constructed around Olympic venues, Sochi was designed into the plans for the winter games venue from the outset. This was not without its complications, as the International Olympic Committee was given the power to delay the race until 2015 if preparations for the circuit interfered with the Winter Olympics. However, no problems were encountered during the construction phase and the winter games went ahead without disruption.
Full completion of the circuit came in June 2014, with its homologation for Formula One being confirmed on 19 August when a delegation from the FIA, led by Formula 1 Race Director and FIA Safety Delegate Charlie Whiting, visited the new venue to assess its readiness.
The lap begins on the northern edge of the Olympic Park near the train station, running down to the central "medals plaza", the podium for Olympic medals presentations. The circuit then circles the plaza and head east to the Bolshoy Ice Dome, navigating a series of tight corners before turning north to skirt the edge of the Olympic Park, above the main Olympic Village and the Adler Arena Skating Center. It then passes the skating and curling centres, before funnelling up behind the pit paddock toward the train station, and completing a circuit with a one hundred and eighty degree bend.
First races test the facilities
The first actual racing took place over 13-14 September 2014, with a round of the Russian Circuit Racing Series, a month ahead of its Formula One debut. The event was planned as test of the facilities of the circuit and to give local marshals a try-out ahead of the international spotlight arriving. As a result, track bosses insisted it be run without spectators. The circuit passed all tests with flying colours, though the long straights caused some problems for the teams, as the fixed transmission ratios caused the cars to run for long portions on the rev limiter, with several engine failures resulting.
Despite these issues, the honour of the first victory fell to Mikhail Grachev in a BMW 320 touring car. In the Touring Car Light category, the win went to the Renault Twingo of Ildar Rakhmatullin.
The circuit was officially opened on 20 September, 2014, with a ceremony attended by the Governor of the Krasnodar Territory Alexander Tkachev and the promoter of the Grand Prix of Russia Sergey Vorobyov.
Formula One arrives to begin Mercedes domination
The first Formula One race was held on 12 October 2014 and provided an early insight into the complete domination the Mercedes-Benz team would hold over all of the races at the track. Lewis Hamilton won from pole position, leading every single lap to finish ahead of his team mate Nico Rosberg, who battled back to second after having to make an early pit stop to replace flat-spotted tyres after an ambitious attempt to take the lead at turn two failed. The result cemented victory for Mercedes in the constructors' championship.
Hamilton did the double in 2015 before Rosberg got his revenge the following year, after which every race has been claimed by either Hamilton or his subsequen team mate Valtteri Bottas to complete a total rout for the German team.
In 2021 it was announced that the 2022 Grand Prix would be the last held at Sochi before it switches to the new Igora Drive facility at St Petersburg. However, the world reaction to the invasion of Ukraine lead to the FIA enacting a ban on competition and the cancellation of the Formula One contract with immediate effect, meaning Sochi's F1 journey finished a year earlier than predicted.
The latest images from Sochi.