Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Driver Finds His Formula

In addition to a recent string of victories by the national soccer team, Russian sports fans can now add race car driving to their list of reasons to gloat.

For the first time in racing history, a Russian driver has made it to the international European-based Formula 3000 - the competition considered to be the last step on the road to Formula One, the world's most prestigious driving competition.

Joining a British team with the backing of Russia's largest oil company, LUKoil, Siberian-born Viktor Maslov is driving in Formula 3000.

The team, called LUKoil Arden Racing, was originally formed three years ago with British backing under the name Arden International Motorsport F3000. But when the British sponsors backed out, the team sought support from LUKoil, which sponsors a Russian-based racing competition of its own. LUKoil added its own driver, Maslov, to the international team. The 23-year-old Siberian was a natural choice, since he had been driving for the LUKoil team in Russia's Formula 3 Championship, and was a two-time winner.

Since the Formula 3000 season began in May, Maslov's achievements have been less than spectacular. He even failed to qualify in the first three races of the season, but he is hopeful about the remaining seven rounds.

"I'm learning, trying to absorb what is going on around me," Maslov said during a visit to Moscow last week.

A native of Surgut, Maslov wanted to become a lawyer. But then he caught the racing bug and quit school after he started driving in the Russian auto championship three years ago. For the past two years he has been racing for the LUKoil team.

Launched in 1985 by the International Automobile Federation, or FIA - the governing body of all international auto sport events - the Formula 3000 competitions are held at 10 European tracks. In each city they race one day before the Formula One Grand Prix. In fact, when a Formula One driver is sick or injured, a driver from Formula 3000 often steps in to take his place.

Unlike Formula One, a competition involving different engine and chassis manufacturers, Formula 3000 race cars have similar engines and bodies - all originating from the same manufacturer. This helps to eliminate favorites, adding intrigue to the race. Often the question of who will take the grand prize at Formula 3000 remains in doubt until the last race, which is held in September.

With less powerful engines, Formula 3000 cars also race at slower speeds. However, the race can be more entertaining, since it is easier for cars to overtake each other. Critics of new Formula One regulations that make overtaking difficult on certain tracks complain that the thrill is lost.

This year, 23 two-man teams are competing in the Formula 3000 championship, but only half of the 46 drivers qualify for each race. The qualifying session is held the day before the actual race, eliminating the slowest drivers.

"People watch TV and think the driver just gets into his car and drives, but that is not true," Maslov said. "A lot of hard work is involved. There should be a complete understanding between the driver and his engineers, otherwise there will be no result."

Should he fare better in the next seven races, it would be natural for Maslov to start thinking about the final frontier: Formula One. In the 14 years since the Formula 3000 competition has existed, 12 of the winners entered the ultimate racing competition, among them Jean Alesi and Olivier Panis of France, and Ricardo Zonta of Brazil.

But for the time being, Maslov says he is not going for the big prize.

"There is so much politics surrounding Formula One," Maslov said. "Our competition, with everyone in equal conditions, shows immediately what kind of driver you are."