American and European sanctions related to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine could threaten the careers of dozens of Russian drivers that are backed by the SMP Racing organization – including those of Verizon IndyCar Series rookie Mikhail Aleshin (pictured) and Sauber Formula One tester Sergey Sirotkin.
According to RIA Novosti, the group issued a statement that says its European financial accounts have been frozen as a result of the sanctions, which were handed down last month.
SMP has gone as far to dub the sanctions “political blackmail” but also asked the U.S. and the European Union to “listen to the voice of reason by removing the limit on Russian athletes’ participation in international competitions.”
The SMP project was set up by billionaire Boris Rotenberg, who was included in the sanctions. Mr. Rotenberg was a childhood friend of current Russian president Vladimir Putin and also is part of the project himself as a sports car racer.
Said project utilizes the branding of Russian-based SMP Bank, which is co-owned by Boris and Arkady Rotenberg and Yuri Kovalchuk; all three men have been hit with U.S. Treasury sanctions.
In regards to Aleshin, who races alongside veteran Simon Pagenaud for IndyCar squad Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, his career has not yet been affected by the sanctions according to SMP’s sports director, Sergey Zlobin.
SMP is a key supporter of the Schmidt Peterson camp, and it should be noted that the team has yet to acquire a steady primary sponsor for Pagenaud since the departure of computer company HP over the winter.
The Frenchman has had two different primary backers in as many races this season: Environmental Rail Solutions at St. Petersburg, and Charter Communications this past weekend at Long Beach.
As for SMP drivers in European-based series, Zlobin adds that they may be under a more immediate threat, as they could soon be unable to pay equipment costs or participation fees.
“The problems that our European office is facing in connection with the impossibility of using funds in the account will result in our drivers not being able to take part in European championships,” Zlobin said to R-Sport/RIA Novosti.
Political turbulence also impacted Venezuelan drivers late last year but in this case, it was thanks to a sports currency scandal that stemmed from one of the country’s state agencies.
In response to the scandal, the Venezuelan government froze all disbursements of hard currency for their race car and motorcycle drivers that compete internationally.