Seeing Russian drivers at the forefront of GP3 – such as Nikita Mazepin, who certainly had a memorable home race – and Formula 2, with Artem Markelov being another star of Sochi, is nothing new now.
But in the past, a Russian driver at the top of international motorsport was a rarity. Vitaly Petrov – who contested GP2 from 2007-2009 – was the first Russian driver to burst onto the Formula 1 scene, competing with Renault in 2010 and 2011 before switching to Caterham for the 2012 season.
He faced an uphill struggle to get into the sport, as when he was growing up in Russia, there was no real domestic motorsport scene for prospective drivers to cut their teeth on.
In fact, he didn’t drive anything at all until he was 14, with his introduction to motorsport coming through local ice races.
But Petrov’s legacy to Formula 1, and Russian motorsport in general, goes far beyond the 64 points, one podium, and one fastest lap he recorded during his three years as a grand prix driver.
Instead, he showed the world that it was possible – and indeed important – to have a Russian driver at the top level of the sport.
During the time that Petrov was in Formula 1, Red Bull signed Daniil Kvyat to its Junior Team, and the younger Russian – who won GP3 in 2013 – now makes his return with Toro Rosso, as announced over the weekend. All that may never have happened had Petrov not put his country on the F1 map.
But while Russia’s arrival in circuit racing is a comparatively new development, there’s one discipline they’ve been dominating for years. It might surprise you, for example, to learn that a Russian driver has won one of global motorsport’s most famous events no fewer than seven times.
And that man is Vladimir Chagin. He won the truck category of the Dakar Rally in 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2010 and 2011, driving a very Russian machine: the Kamaz.
Rallying has always been strong in Russia, with Alexey Lukyanuk recently claiming the European Rally Championship on Pirelli tyres.
While there was never a structured circuit racing scene in Russia until recently, there have always been thousands of kilometres of untrammelled gravel roads: which is how Chagin and Lukyanuk all learned their art. And, of course, Petrov too: as well as ice races he also took part in gravel rallysprints as a youngster. The “Vyborg Rocket” didn’t even look at a single-seater until he was nearly 20…