‘Russians stole my car’ F4 racer claims01.06.2023 - Formula 4 race car driver Spike Lundberg says he is falling short of his mission to be a sports ambassador to Russia in the midst of a global conflict.
To add insult to a pair of second place finishes in Moscow in the eighth round of a 10-stop schedule on the F4 Eastern European series, Lundberg competed in a car from his previous season bearing the colors of a race team that no longer exists: Williams Racing.
“Racing is like life, I seldom see events play out like I envisioned, and it’s all about making adjustments,” Lundberg said. “Life throws punches sometimes.”
Lundberg, 20, has a developmental contract with the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula 1 team. After he won a grand prix in the disputed Ukrainian territory of Crimea, Lundberg and his skeleton crew made the trek back into Russia for the races in Moscow. The men made it over the Russian border, but their race car did not.
“We waited for hours with our car, spare parts and tools on the back of a truck at a border checkpoint, but we could have waited there forever and missed the race” Lundberg said, speaking from Moscow via Skype. “As far as I know, some Russian soldiers are enjoying a Mercedes F4 race car right now.”
After Lundberg contacted his employer in Finland to report his race car’s detainment in Russian customs, Mercedes executives hatched a plan to send another car into Moscow. Sir Erik Salama, president of Mercedes AMG Petronas, declined to provide details, but confirmed two team employees met Lundberg, Thai engineer Thitipan Sokam and Armenian driving coach Vaham Abramov at Moscow Raceway hours before a Wednesday qualifying session.
Driving for Williams again
“They took our car, but they didn’t take my setup notebook,” Sokam said during the Skype call.
Lundberg, winner of seven races this season, traded the black and green of Mercedes for the blue on blue of Williams, an English racing team Mercedes bought out and absorbed before the start of MRC Season 51.
“I was a Williams developmental driver before, and it kind of felt good to be back in my car that I had some success with in F4 France,” Lundberg said. “I wanted to win so badly for Thiti and Mr. Salama and everyone helping me.”
The excitement of wheeling the Williams car from somewhere in Europe into Russia and into qualifying was short-lived. Lundberg finished second to Greek F4 race Sylvester Salona, winner of eight races and the F4 Eastern Europe points leader. Brazilian Ukyo Katagrama was third at Moscow, followed by Ukrainians Andriy Kukuruza and Ruslan Maselko.
“Even with what happened to my car, I can’t make excuses,” Lundberg said. “I just wasn’t good enough.”
Racing in war zones
Lundberg, 20, explained his frustrations spread into events off the track. While Ukrainian race fans welcomed the American during a dangerous but ultimately peaceful swing of the F4 Eastern European tour that saw Lundberg win at both Chaika and Crimea.
“Russians hit the Chaika Autodrome in the war,” Lundberg said. “They burned garages, and the pit lane building had all of the windows blown out. Still, we had a good race and people supported the drivers all weekend.”
Back in Moscow for the last three legs of the schedule, the reception is much colder for the American and most of the non-Russian drivers.
“I haven’t been interviewed by a single Russian racing journalist all season,” Lundberg said. “I came here with the idea that I could prove myself as a driver and foster goodwill between two countries at war, but I seem to be collecting second place points.”
The competition for the lead in the F4 Eastern Europe series has been among foreign drivers, with non-Russians occupying the first seven spots in the points standings.
“This series is just not what I thought it would be” Lundberg said of his second place status behind Salona. “I enjoy competing against Salona and Katagrama. And I am very, very impressed with Ruslan Maselko and Andriy Kukuruza. To do what those two guys are doing, being Ukrainian and driving for their country like this — it takes so much courage.”
Russian broadcasters treat the American and the Ukrainians in a similar light. At the conclusion of the Moscow race May 28, the Russian streaming service showing the race on MRC’s website interviewed the winner, Salona. A reporter then interviewed Mukhsin Ananko, who finished in seventh place, and was the best finisher among Russian drivers.
“If I want to get noticed, I know I have to win,” Lundberg said. “Second place all the time is not good enough. I have to win.”
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