Sochi's formula for the future: 'Fantasy' becomes reality

Sochi, Russia (CNN) -- Who do you ask for help if you need to turn a muddy hole in the ground into a futuristic grand prix track?
"He's my sort of man," Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone says of Russian president Vladimir Putin's influence in the project to stage the nation's first grand prix this October in Sochi.
"He knows what he wants to do and he gets on and does it. I've never had any fear that what he agreed to do wouldn't happen. I think (Russia has) done a first-class job for F1 and a super job for the Olympics," Ecclestone told CNN.
It's the kind of ringing endorsement that stands out like an oasis in a desert for a politician much derided for many of his policies by a large swathe of the international community.But then, the 83-year-old Ecclestone has a reputation for favoring those who he believes can deliver on their promises and thereby aid F1's further expansion.
The growth of motorsport's elite division into one of the world's most valuable sport franchises has been built on such relationships and Ecclestone's shrewd 40-year management of them.
The Sochi circuit is the culmination of talks that first started in the 1980s, when a plan to run a race through Red Square in Moscow was abandoned -- "they didn't want to replace the cobblestones with paving," says Ecclestone -- and is a major statement of intent from Putin's government to secure the city's post-Games future.
Talks became serious six years ago, when the Olympic project gained momentum.
"He's been following the plans all of the way through," Ecclestone says of Putin's involvement.
New locations are always a risk for F1's management. The promise of lucrative hosting deals and iconic locations often turn to dust before coming to reality, as plans for a race in New Jersey recently demonstrated.
But the Sochi pitch filled Ecclestone with confidence, so much so that a six-year deal reportedly worth in excess of $250 million -- though Ecclestone would not confirm that figure -- was signed to secure the event until 2020.
"I think Russia is an important nation full stop. F1 is a world championship, so it's difficult to think of leaving Russia out of a world event like this," Ecclestone said.
"We looked at what they were building ... and tailored ourselves around what they had constructed for the events already."