Formula One is Russian Team's Dream
Wednesday April 26th, 2000
By Daniel Mclaughlin
Russian sports fans are used to their athletes scooping medals on the world's running tracks but Formula One racetracks may soon offer another source of silverware.
Arden Team Russia (www.f3000.ru), sponsored by oil giant LUKOIL, is building strength in the shadow of Formula One and eyeing an eventual assault on the top step of the motor sport podium.
The team's red Formula 3000 cars carry the Russian flag and the gold, two-headed eagle crest beloved of the tsars in a series which supports Grand Prix events around Europe.
Last weekend at a rain-soaked Silverstone Briton Darren Manning and Russian Viktor Maslov guided their cars, emblazoned with "LUKOIL" and "Rossiya" in Cyrillic, to their best results so far.
Manning claimed pole position and second place in a race which saw Maslov qualify for the first time in Formula 3000 before slithering off in the treacherous conditions.
"LUKOIL have made a big investment with few results so this result was really needed, said Alexander Trebich, the burly Russian who says he introduced LUKOIL to Britain's Arden Motorsport and is now team director.
"LUKOIL wanted to find a team but we're a little bit proud of ourselves and so it had to be a Russian team," Trebich said.
"It made sense to develop a Russian team here in England, the centre of motor racing."
"It will take time to develop a culture of driving and technical skill in Russia but this team gives people something to look up to."
Sporting director Christian Horner, who retired from driving to found Arden Motorsport in 1997, said Team Russia was "50-50 Anglo-Russian at the end of the day."
But with an all-British crew of mechanics, including engineers who worked for British American Racing (BAR) in Formula One last year, Trebich and driver Maslov are in a definite minority in the garage.
In Darren Manning Arden Team Russia have one of the brightest British driving talents around.
He soundly beat Jenson Button, Williams' new Grand Prix golden boy, at the prestigious Macau and Korea Formula Three "Grands Prix" events last year.
Manning took pole positions, race wins and fastest laps in both legs of the two-race Macau meeting, a feat last achieved by Ayrton Senna in 1983.
He was also first in line for the Williams F1 seat now occupied by Button but took the Arden Team Russia deal and a BAR testing contract rather than waiting for Williams' final decision.
"Everyone's 'Jenson this' and 'Jenson that,' but I don't regret my decision at all," Manning said, standing his second-place trophy next to the imperial eagle on his car.
"We're like the Russian national team, and it's great to have an entire country supporting you."
Formula one Mission
Team mate Maslov said Silverstone was a great success, even though he spun off in the race.
Maslov, who comes from Siberia, failed to qualify for any of last year's Formula 3000 races, raising doubts about his ability in a category which has produced drivers of the calibre of Damon Hill, Eddie Irvine and Jean Alesi.
"Viktor has the contacts, yes," Trebich said, admitting that Maslov's brother Sergei was once a LUKOIL executive.
"But he has talent as well. He is the right man for our mission," Trebich said, clapping a beefy hand on the Maslov's slight shoulder.
"We have a mission to show people what we can do. That we can speak well, smile and we can win."
Trebich, who described his own life as "a fluctuation between business and motor sport", was keen to distance Arden Team Russia from the murky reputation of Russian business abroad.
"We have backers other than LUKOIL, wealthy business people who want to promote the country but don't need to see their names on the side of the car," he said.
"But there's no mafia behind it, it's very much open."
"We want to do this in a European way and we think we're good at it."
"Russia is a massive market and has massive potential for Formula One teams and races," Trebich said.
"I don't know how soon, or if it will be with us, but Formula One will happen in Russia."