SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Stray dogs roaming the streets of Sochi are just one of the problems facing Russian Formula One Grand Prix organizers as they prepare for a debut race in October.
The slow hand of Russian bureaucracy and the risk of post-Olympic complacency are also on the list of challenges to be overcome.
However, Richard Cregan, who has been brought in to troubleshoot after managing Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina circuit, is confident the newest event on the F1 calendar will meet deadlines and be a success on October 12.
“There are certainly challenges ahead, no question about that,” the former Toyota team manager told Reuters as the Black Sea resort basks in the limelight of the Winter Olympics.
”The target to complete the facility is the first week in August and I think that’s doable.
“There’s enough of the venue ready at the moment to ensure the delivery of the race. It will be tight, it will be challenging but we will make it and we will deliver.”
The Games, and Paralympics, are currently the main focus and the F1 pit and paddock complex, along with the main grandstand, are a fenced-off building site on the edge of the Olympic Park.
The straight has yet to be asphalted, the VIP boxes are windowless, and building debris lies strewn around with skips and diggers where the start/finish line will be.
Promoter Oleg Zabara told Reuters last week that the racetrack itself was more than 90 percent complete, given that public roads around the main Olympic sites will be used and work would pick up after the Games.
”There has been a massive focus on the Olympics, which is totally understandable,“ said Cregan. ”Once these Olympics are completed, then we are in a situation where all of the resources are delivering the F1 circuit. So that’s a good thing.
“But there will be some challenges in that.”
The Olympics have highlighted the number of stray dogs roaming the city, with rights activists campaigning to save them after a local company was given a contract to round them up.
Formula One’s primary concern is safety and a stray dog running onto the track could be hit by a car and cause a fatal accident.
“It’s just a totally unacceptable situation. We have to do everything we can to avoid that, so we just have to make sure it doesn’t happen,” said Cregan.
Dogs on track have been a problem before in F1, particularly in Turkey and India when those countries hosted races, despite purpose-built facilities with extensive perimeter fences.
”It (the problem) certainly went onto a list when we saw, basically after arriving here, so many of them,“ Cregan said of the dogs. ”We’ve already had discussions with (the Olympic organizers) about how they’ve dealt with it.
“It definitely is an issue we need to deal with ... the fact that we have part of the circuit which is permanent and the rest is effectively street circuit brings its own challenges in terms of fencing and access and all of those things.”
Some journalists arriving for the Olympics found hotels unfinished or unfurnished but Cregan said that was not likely to be a problem for Formula One.
”A lot of these things will have been sorted out because of the Olympics,“ said the Irishman. ”Certainly in terms of hotels and other infrastructure, the Olympics are a proving ground. I don’t think we’ll have any issues there.
”When it comes to the F1 facility, I think that’s where we have to keep the pressure on. It’s very easy to fall into a false sense of security that when the facility is finished, the event is delivered.
“When the keys are handed over for the facility, that’s when the really hard work starts in terms of delivery of the venue and then the event itself. It’s getting that point across and that understanding.”
Cregan said it was crucial local organizers understood clearly what Formula One expected from them and that the sport accepted there would be hurdles to overcome.
”One of the things that has struck me here is that there is quite a lot of bureaucracy about how things are done. And that’s the way. It hasn’t been created for the Olympics or for F1, it’s just the way things are done here.
“So you have make time for that, to build time into the schedules to allow for approvals and the paperwork that needs to be done.”
“The other very positive thing is the willingness of the people to work. Everybody sees the amount of work that needs to be done and they want to do it. They are very keen. The team here feel they own the event, they feel it’s their event and they have to deliver it for Russia.”
Organizers plan to sell 55,000 tickets and Cregan expected them all to go with 15-20 percent of the crowd made up of international visitors.
Most of the marshals will be trained or provided by the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport (CAMS) under a similar deal to that in place in Abu Dhabi and other newer venues where local expertise has yet to be built up.
“If we do our homework well and we work on this, I really do think Sochi can become quite an important event in the calendar and certainly a very important, prestigious event here in Russia,” said Cregan.
Editing by Peter Rutherford