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Russian Grand Prix axe will cost £40m: Qatar in line to fill gap on the F1 calendar

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Formula One’s movers and shakers unanimously agreed to cancel this year’s Russian Grand Prix, leaving the sport with a £40million hole in its budget.

While the race due to be held in Sochi on September 25 has been wiped from the calendar, the search is on for a replacement. The Qatari capital Doha, which held its inaugural event last year and is due to return in 2023, is believed to be high on a preliminary list of contenders.

Alternatively, Bahrain might host a second race. The Middle East venues, with their deep pockets, are certainly the leading candidates to plug the financial gap in the 23-round rota.

The Russian Grand Prix in Sochi has been axed for this season's Formula One campaign

The Russian Grand Prix in Sochi has been axed for this season’s Formula One campaign

The news came as Ukrainian soldiers formed up across a highway in Kyiv as they prepared to defend the city from Russian attackers, with gunfire and explosions heard in the capital

The news came as Ukrainian soldiers formed up across a highway in Kyiv as they prepared to defend the city from Russian attackers, with gunfire and explosions heard in the capital

Sportsmail understands that a meeting between F1 chief executive Stefano Domenicali, the FIA and teams on Thursday night quickly and decisively voted to spurn the pariah Russian state, which held its first race in 2014.

A statement read: ‘The FIA Formula One World Championship visits countries all over the world with a positive vision to unite people, bringing nations together. We are watching the developments in Ukraine with sadness and shock and hope for a swift and peaceful resolution to the present situation.

‘(Our) conclusion, including the view of all relevant stakeholders, is that it is impossible to hold the Russian Grand Prix in the current circumstances.’

F1 team Haas removed Russian sponsor Uralkali's branding from its car and run it in an all-white livery on the final day of Barcelona testing on Friday

F1 team Haas removed Russian sponsor Uralkali’s branding from its car and run it in an all-white livery on the final day of Barcelona testing on Friday

The future of the American-owned, Russian-backed Haas team remains in doubt. They are sponsored by Uralkali, a chemical company whose deputy chairman is Dmitry Mazepin, oligarch father of driver Nikita Mazepin. Mazepin Snr attended a Kremlin meeting called by Putin on Thursday.

Haas removed Uralkali’s branding and the colours of the Russian flag from their car and drove in all-white livery during pre-season testing in Barcelona on Friday.

Team principal Guenther Steiner said they were viable with or without the Russian connection, and regardless of whether Mazepin Jnr is retained.

‘It is a headache but it’s not something that disturbs the team,’ said Steiner.

‘Financially, we are OK. It has no implication for the team, how we plan the season. There are more ways to get the funding. We have no issues with that.’

Haas, who Russian Nikita Mazepin (above) races with, are sponsored by Uralkali from Russia

Haas, who Russian Nikita Mazepin (above) races with, are sponsored by Uralkali from Russia

Nikita Mazepin said: ‘To my fans and followers — it’s a difficult time and I am not in control over a lot of what is being said and done. I’m choosing to focus on what I can control by working hard and doing my best for my Haas team.

‘My deepest thanks for your understanding and support.’

Meanwhile, sacked race director Michael Masi received death threats after last season’s controversial Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, according to Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, who criticised the sport’s governing body, the FIA, for discarding their top official.

Horner’s comments followed his star driver, world champion Max Verstappen, saying the Australian was ‘thrown under the bus’.

Echoing the views of a growing paddock majority, Horner said: ‘The lack of support shown to Michael was disappointing, especially at a time when mental health is so prevalent.

Sebastian Vettel said he would boycott the Russian Grand Prix following Russia's invasion

Sebastian Vettel said he would boycott the Russian Grand Prix following Russia’s invasion

‘To hear that his family and he received death threats is not right. An awful lot of pressure was put on the FIA to deal with him.

‘I made it clear in last week’s (F1 Commission) meeting that I felt there should have been more support for him and I was disappointed that nobody shared that opinion.

‘I have had an exchange with him to wish him well. But the whole experience was very, very tough for him.’

Mercedes called for Masi’s removal after his decision to bring in the safety car allowed Verstappen to pass Lewis Hamilton on the final lap in Abu Dhabi. The Northamptonshire-based team intimated that without Masi’s sacking Hamilton may have quit the sport.

Hamilton returned to the cockpit this week alongside new team-mate George Russell, the 24-year-old Englishman.

The seven-time world champion set the fastest time in Barcelona, a 1min 19.138sec lap.

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