In October, two months before the 2023 Dakar Rally, Sergei Kariakin made a last-ditch plea to FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem to lift the sanctioning body’s policy that Russian competitors denounce the invasion of Ukraine, a prerequisite that allows them to take part in FIA-overseen races. After not receiving a response for the next month, Kariakin has called it quits.
Kariakin argued the “emergency measures” violate Article 3 of the FIA Code of Ethics, which stipulates the FIA maintain friendly relations with state governments and private bodies. While Russia invading Ukraine has drawn international condemnation, Kariakin and various Russian racers have refused to speak out against it such as fellow SSV driver Anastasiya Nifontova. KAMAZ-master, a nineteen-time winner of the Dakar’s Truck category, is also skipping the 2023 Rally; the team’s parent company is directly involved in the war by providing vehicles to the Russian military.
His SNAG Racing team-mate Nikita Mazepin formally declared he would stay neutral about the topic, though the sentiment is hindered by his family’s relationship with President Vladimir Putin and Western sanctions. The fallout from the invasion had ousted Mazepin from his Formula One ride, leading him to Kariakin and rally raid.
“The FIA is ignoring my letter, and I am not going to sign the paper for participation,” Kariakin told Match TV. “Certainly, this is a difficult decision. But this is the reality in which we live.”
Although not necessarily proclaiming his support for the invasion, Kariakin’s stance has been implied from his opposition to the policy, calling the war a “special operation” (the official term used by the Kremlin and supporters), and running for local political office in 2021 as part of the pro-Putin party United Russia.
In the meantime, Kariakin and his peers have taken part in the Russian Rally-Raid Championship. However, being barred from international competition naturally means a lack of outside funding which forced him to sell the SSV that he drove to victory at the 2021 Silk Way Rally. He did not name the buyer, but noted they have an FIA licence and are not subject to the same restrictions.
“It all started in February, when the sanctions penetrated so deeply that they began to interfere in sports and put up barriers for athletes,” said Kariakin in a separate interview with Match. “If we talk about the FIA, they can give the opportunity to participate in competitions but with one condition: you need to condemn the special operation, protest to your state. These are punitive measures that a normal person will not agree to. Such a requirement is a mere formality, no one forbids driving the Dakar, just sign a piece of paper.
“It is clear that no one will let you win in such a situation. They cheat so that the Russians do not win the race. And they will also deprive us of the flag and anthem, any national identity.
“We tried to communicate with the organisers so that they cancel the signing of the document. Wrote a letter addressed to the President of the FIA, sent it several times, but never received a response. I do not see a real opportunity to solve the situation. Therefore, we are not going to Dakar.
“Now there is an urgent issue to keep the sports team to participate in competitions. It is important to understand that human capital is one of the main factors that moves you forward. And you need not to lose people for the next season, save the team.
“We decided that we would put up sports equipment for sale, because there are no sponsors, no funds. Previously, they lived off the sales of sports cars, but today they are not very much in demand, and we were left a little without work. We have changed our profile to fulfill orders, typical tasks, we are entering a different market to which we need to adapt.”
The policies have generated mixed reception in Russia and Belarus, an ally who was also impacted. While the aforementioned refuse to sign the documents and have since been relegated to domestic competition, others like Robert Shwartzman and Alexander Smolyar agreed to the terms and switched to different licences; Konstantin Zhiltsov and team-mate Denis Krotov did the same to ensure they can run the 2023 Dakar Rally. The FIM does not have such a rule, which prevented Belarusian rider Dmitriy Mazanov from running the Baja Portalgre 500 in October despite his staunch proclamation of solidarity with Ukraine.