A big fan of motorsport and a member of Ferrari's client programme, Peter Bukhtoyarov talks of the past and present of Russia's Formula E round and recounts his crash in Mugello.
Last summer's Formula E round in Moscow managed to resonate in a major way – and no wonder, given that it was the first time in history that real racing was being held right next to the Kremlin. Behind the project was entrepreneur and racing enthusiast Valentin Bukhtoyarov. However, a little-known fact is that the idea itself was not his, but instead came from his son.
Talking to Motorsport.com Russia, Peter Bukhtoyarov elaborates on how the idea to have a Russian round of Formula E came about, and discusses the future prospects of the project. He also explains why he never got the chance to drive Michael Schumacher's Ferrari.
Peter, is it true that it was your initial idea which led to the Moscow Formula E round?
Yes. I am part of Ferrari's client racing programme, and among our instructors in the F1 programme was Marc Gene. He knows very well the people who started the project, who took on this responsibility and managed to come through with their plans.
A few years ago, Marc told me that such a series was being planned and that it had support from the FIA. I was, of course, interested and decided to look into the matter. And I saw huge potential and a big future – and an opportunity to be part of something new, not just for motorsport, but for the world as a whole.
In that case, the question for you is whether the story of Russia's Formula E race will continue in 2017 – or further down the line?
Oh, it'd be great, of course – but it doesn't really depend on us. First and foremost, it is down to Formula E itself, as well as the Moscow government and, to a certain extent, the Russian government.
There's no doubt that it's a unique event, right next to the Kremlin's walls. It cannot be compared to the car shows that were held there in the past. Formula E is proper racing, and while it's not accompanied by the roar of the engines, there's a positive side to that: you can be right by the track and still be able to easily chat with other people, share your impressions. Or, for example, it allows you to to bring your kids along without much of a concern.
How did you get into motorsport in the first place? In the modern world, it is somewhat of a rare hobby.
My motorsport interest I, naturally, have my dad to thank for. As far as I can remember myself, I was always into motorsport, primarily thanks to computer games. One of the first ones for me was a Formula 1 simulator on Windows 95, with cars that were almost square. There were lots of tracks in that, including Suzuka, which I really liked due to its infinity symbol-like layout.
So the interest was always there, but then it kicked up a notch when my father bought a Ferrari F300 – the car that Michael Schumacher raced [in F1 in 1998]. It was in 2003 or 2004, and when I saw the car and realised that it could be piloted by a regular person, I was inspired and awed.
Have you been to Suzuka real life?
Not yet, unfortunately. But, as part of the Corsi Clienti programme in 2015, we did have a race at the Fuji Speedway. And that was an unforgettable experience – in the final sequence of corners, you even sort of forget about needing to control the car as you see the marvellous Mount Fuji. It makes an indelible impression.
What other tracks have your raced at?
I've been to quite a few, most of them in Europe. In Italy, I've run them all, from the compact Vallelunga to the really famous ones in Imola and Monza. And not to mention Mugello, Ferrari's home track - we do a few days there almost every year. It's a fantastic track, I love it a lot.
As for other venues, I got to visit Sao Paolo's Interlagos, and that was, naturally, unforgettable. Firstly, it's one of the few circuits that goes anti-clockwise. Secondly, it's got very interesting weather, where the track can dry out just an hour and a half after light rain. The constantly changing weather conditions and the resulting changes in grip levels add a fair bit of intrigue, it's very interesting.
Is Mugello your favourite circuit, or are there tracks you're more fond of?
To be honest, the ones I recall most often are Interlagos and Spa-Francorchamps. Spa is an indescribable feeling, a long ring with many corners you can do flat. Eau Rouge is something else, scary at the beginning but unforgettable once you get the hang of it. The decline on entry leading into the acceleration up the hill makes for a big altitude change, which leaves a strong impression.
Have you had any major incidents, or have you managed to avoid them?
Unfortunately, this year I had a crash at Mugello. We now have a new car on the base of the LaFerrari – FXX-K, it's very obedient and comfortable to drive. But at that point I was driving the previous 599XX model, which I had started my hobby in.
As it's front-engined, the balance of the car is not as good – and because of the weight distribution, it's got a bit of a character. As such, you have to be really careful behind the wheel when on cold tyres – that's not just me saying that, that's something many drivers agree on. So, on one occasion when I had just left the pits, I felt like I was on ice and lost control – and it was impossible to do anything after that.
What machinery have you got the chance to drive, and which did you find most interesting?
Well, if we're talking racing circuits, I've only driven Ferraris, the 599XX and the FXX-K. And there's really a massive difference between them. The latter has a hybrid system and it works like a charm. It's a very well-balanced car, and the acceleration using the maximum power mode is unbelievable. During the Finali Mondiali in Daytona, corner exit speed was reaching 260 km/h.
Through the bends, the car was reaching 230-245 km/h. For me, that was the first experience of that sort, and it was indescribable. Driving the car left an unreal impression, it was a completely unique feeling – and I have to thank Ferrari for giving me the opportunity.
Did you ever get to try the F300 that kickstarted your hobby?
Unfortunately, my height doesn't allow me to fit in that car. In the 2000s, the composition of F1 cars changed, allowing for pedals to be moved further – which makes it usable for drivers up to almost two metres in height.
But our car is fairly old already – or, I should say, classic. And I just do not fit in it. I can get into the cockpit if I want to, but I cannot drive, because my knees are pressed against it.