Renault’s new works team surprised the F1 world on Tuesday when it revealed the identity of its new test driver.
It was in 2013 when Sergey Sirotkin, then a teenager, was central to a so-called ‘Russian rescue deal’ for the struggling Sauber team that ultimately fell through.
Sirotkin is now in GP2 with the support of SMP Racing, which is linked strongly to the Russian bank SMP and also Vladimir Putin.
“I would like to thank SMP Racing for the great support given to my career, starting in Sochi, in front of my compatriots,” Sirotkin, now 20, said on Tuesday.
Indeed, he has been shown the green light by the new works Renault team to drive in Kevin Magnussen’s place in Friday morning practice this week ahead of the Russian grand prix.
Renault said in a statement that Sirotkin’s drive is a “good start for the collaboration between Renault Sport and SMP Racing”.
Sirotkin will also be a Renault test driver for the rest of 2016.
“The contract signed is until the end of 2016,” his manager Nikolai Vetrov told the Russian news agency Tass.
“Then we will look at the possibility of extending it,” he added.
It also seems possible that Sirotkin’s Sochi outing may not be a one-off.
“If he can regularly participate in the Friday practices, it is a very good arrangement that has some promise,” Igor Ermilin, the presidential advisor of the Russian automobile federation, told Rio Novosti news agency.
The news, however, had heads scratching within the specialist Danish media, as Magnussen will have to make way on Friday to someone who might be described as a ‘pay driver’.
“It is very surprising,” said Peter Nygaard, the respected correspondent for the BT newspaper.
“Renault should not be a team that desperately needs money, as Sauber did back then.”
He said it is also surprising that it is Magnussen, and not the Briton Jolyon Palmer who finished dead last in China, who is having to vacate his Renault cockpit in Russia.
“It could imply that Palmer has a watertight contract that he must do all sessions and races, while it was Kevin who came into the team at the last minute,” Nygaard speculated.