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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tula Hoping for Formula One Race




The quiet provincial town of Tula is best known for its samovars and gingerbread called pryaniki. But Mayor Sergei Kazakov envisions a glamorous - and expensive - future for Tula as host to Formula One auto racing.


Tula residents should not, however, hold their breath waiting to see drivers Michael Schumacher or Jacques Villeneuve sauntering down their humble main street. There are a few bugs in the plan - beginning with the $300 million price tag for the track.


And Tula would have to elbow aside Moscow, which has made rumblings about bringing the Grand Prix roar to Russia. Also, the association that regulates Formula One racing says it hasn't heard from Tula.


Never mind all that. Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov signed a decree last week in support of the Tula administration's ambitions of playing host to one of the world's most expensive sports.


The Formula One championship has in recent years consisted of about 17 races held around the world, and most of the venues have remained unchanged for years.


But much of the money for sponsoring teams and competitions has come from big tobacco producers, and the European Union's decision last year to ban cigarette advertising at some European racetracks has threatened to oust a few Grand Prix from the calendar. This has given hope of playing host to a race to some countries that are more tobacco-friendly.


Kazakov has lined up a powerful investor to build a Formula One track in Tula, 200 kilometers south of Moscow, the mayor's spokesman Fyodor Gusev said Tuesday. The overall cost is estimated at $300 million and the city hopes to complete the project by 2002, he said.


The mayor and the investor have picked three possible sites, all within the city limits, and a final decision may be made as early as the beginning of 1999, Gusev said in a telephone interview.


"This will help to make the town look attractive," Gusev said, adding that the project will create jobs. The mayor hopes to build hotels and other facilities necessary to hold a Grand Prix competition. One of his biggest concerns is the run-down local airport, which he hopes to turn into an international one, the spokesman said.


However, for the seemingly absurd notion of transforming Tula into a prestigious Grand Prix location to become a reality, the city would have to go through a long licensing and application procedure. Only when its track was built and approved by the governing body of all international auto sports events could Tula apply to hold a Grand Prix competition.


Francesco Longanesi, a spokesman for Federation Internationale de Automobiles, said there is a big gap between building a racetrack and actually being able to hold a Formula One competition.


"It is not absolutely impossible, but to say it's possible is premature," Longanesi said in a telephone interview from Paris.


Longanesi said the FIA gets numerous applications to host Grand Prix competitions and few ever make it onto the racing calendar. He said his office has not yet heard from Tula.


The ambitious head of the Tula administration is not the first Russian mayor with visions of building a Formula One racetrack. In 1996, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov announced that he was going to build a circuit in Krylatskoye in western Moscow and even ordered the construction to start. But the track was never built.


Luzhkov's deputy, Valery Shantsev, said in an interview with Russia's Formula One magazine that the city government is now searching for a suitable place to build a racetrack in the Moscow suburbs. "I can say that we are considering spaces near the Sheremetyevo airport. Other options are also possible," Shantsev was quoted in the December issue as saying.