Vitaly and Oksana at F1 Melbourne: Triumph and Tears for the Sport's Odd Couple
There are a number of big stories about the 2011 Melbourne F1 Grand Prix. One of the biggest is that Vitaly Petrov scored third place for Lotus-Renault, which also made him third in the driver's championship table because it was the first event of the year.
It was a moment of triumph for Petrov, who was often disparaged in 2010, and a moment for tears from his manager, Oksana Kosachenko. I point out here that there are differing spellings of Oksana's surname to be found, all are translations of the Russian Косаченко.
"I just can’t express my feelings with words: when I saw Vitaly on the podium, I burst into tears," she said, according to rt.com. "We’ve set very high standards in the very first race of the season: now we’ll have to try to keep it up during the whole championship. And I want to believe that we’ll be able to do it throughout the year."
Petrov has the lean and haunted look of a forest partisan, coupled with the doomed stare of a cosmonaut; it has been observed that he could play a movie zombie without any makeup. His manager, by contrast, has the cheerful wholesomeness of an ideal Soviet-era housewife.
In the absence of Anthony Hamilton, Oksana has become the most visible of driver managers, and she has a story to be told. It is a story of commitment, devotion and unstinting loyalty, backed by the formidable brain and personality contained in her tiny form.
Who is Oksana?
A Muscovite, Oksana graduated from Moscow State University with a PhD in Philology, and speaks four languages in addition to Russian. She worked briefly as a teacher of French,and then got a job at the International Division of the Komsomol (Communist Union of Youth) Central Committee, again utilising her language skills.
With the collapse of Russian communism, Oksana was out of a job. She worked for a short time in London, and then returned to Moscow to work for the new government for a couple of years before becoming personal assistant to Vladimir Yevtushenkov, the tycoon heading the Sistema conglomerate.
Through all of the above Oksana was involved with choreography and gymnastics at a very high level, attaining the title Candidate Master of Sports.
In 1993 Oksana and some partners started a PR/Marketing agency closely involved with TV and fashion. Note that up to this time she was not especially interested in motorsports, although she was aware of F1 to the extent of being a Nigel Mansell supporter. This all changed in 1998, when she became a race commentator for a TV station, although not on F1 because the commentary for that came from abroad, where the races took place.
As well as commentating, Oksana presented a two-hour show in which she interviewed drivers and others from the motor racing field. She also began writing on motorsports for various Russian publications. This lead her to feel that she needed direct experience of racing, so she entered the Russian Touring Car Championship, driving a factory VW Polo. Sadly, it cannot be reported that she won any races.
At an awards ceremony in 2001 Oksana was introduced to Vitaly Petrov, who was then just 16 years old but had built a formidable reputation in the Lada Cup, a Russian series. She became his manager, in addition to her numerous other business interests, and has steered him to his international breakthrough via Italian Formula Renault, the Lada-Revolution series, Formula 3000, and GP2.
With Renault, the French auto manufacturer, quitting F1 at the end of 2009, leaving its name with the team but not their money, the new owners were faced with a major financial challenge. This led to them effectively putting a price on a seat in their car, the price being €15 million.
Both Oksana and Petrov had a long association with Renault, and the lady saw a window of opportunity opening. If anyone wants to get snooty about "pay drivers," l remind them that financial inducements have been the route into F1 for many. Michael Schumacher's first F1 drive with Jordan was paid for, and he turned out to be reasonably capable.
Petrov had a good record in lower racing formats, but so did a lot of other drivers. Of course, those other drivers did not have Oksana behind them.
Oksana approached the Renault team with a proposal, and a 93-page contract was drawn up in English and Russian versions. A €7.5 million sum had to paid to the team for the start of 2010 season, with a balance of €7.5 million to be paid by the end of the year. Needless to say, Petrov did not sign any part of the contract, Oksana did.
Of course she did not have €7.5 million, so she set about fundraising. Trawling around the 500 biggest companies that had risen since Russia emerged from its communist coma, she drew blank after blank when she asked for sponsorship funds. But she persisted, presenting Petrov as the "golden key" to bringing F1 to Russia.
As we now know, Oksana got Petrov onto the grid for his difficult first season, and secured a two-year contract extension for him in December 2010. Looking back on Petrov's first F1 season, it is amusing how many print and internet writers (including Duncan Scott) were predicting his imminent exit from the sport; they reckoned without Oksana.
The future is always like a thick stew, you never know quite what's in it. So this writer will not make any rash predictions of a golden F1 future for Vitaly Petrov, but it is certain that without Oksana Kosachenko, the Russian would not be on the threshold of that future. She has been that important to him.
Although rarely interviewed by the English-speaking media, Oksana certainly knows how to launch a verbal missile. Interviewed by sportsdaily.ru after Robert Kubica's nasty rallying accident, she said this (translated) of Lotus-Renault team boss Eric Bouyer, who is actually an old friend of hers:
"... he made an unforgivable mistake, allowing Kubica to take part in the rally. Of course, an accident could happen anywhere, even at home, but for Bouyer, hoping to lead the team to win prizes in season 2011, it will be a lesson: do not bet on just one pilot."
Of Nick Heidfeld, Kubica's temporary (possibly very temporary) replacement on the team, she said this (translated) before the Melbourne race:
"Heidfeld has no charisma, though he is smart, quick and technically literate, But he is not a locomotive, who will drag the team forward. He can not make it so that the team will work through the night for the sake of solving a problem. Nick on the tests proved to be a good idea, but what will happen in racing is unclear."
After the race, which saw Heidfeld finish in lowly 14th place, elevated to 12th after the Saubers were disqualified, she said this:
"Unfortunately, Vitaly’s teammate—Nick Heidfeld—could not achieve good results in Australia, but we hope that in future he will drive very fast."
Are you sure about that, Oksana?
Those who think Oksana Kosachenko is a very fine woman might like to know that her birthday is May 1st, and that she likes red roses and spaghetti. Nick Heidfeld may be interested to learn she is afraid of the dark and cockroaches.
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