For the last two years Svetlana Strelnikova has celebrated her birthday in an oyster restaurant at Bluff. Strelnikova is in a unique position in world motorsport as the Team Principal of Russian Time, which competes in the GP2 series, the curtain raiser to most of the European rounds of the Formula One World Championship races.
And for the last two New Zealand summers she has followed the progress of the team’s driver Artem Markelov in the Toyota Racing series. Russian Time is also the team for which Aucklander Mitch Evans has driven for in 2014 and 2015.
Both years Svetlana’s birthday has coincided with the second round of TRS held at Teretonga, just outside Invercargill, so what better way to celebrate the milestone than sampling the local delicacy, even if it is a long way from her European base of Norwich, in Norfolk England.
Strelnikova is the only Team Principal working in any of the major single seater classes of European motorsport in what is still largely a male dominated role. And it is a position she came to almost accidentally after a major career change.
“I went to the Brazil Formula One Grand Prix in 2000 with a friend and her partner and it looked like a fun thing to get into.”
After working for a Swiss Perfume company Svetlana went looking for jobs with European racing teams, hosting guests, helping with team administration and logistics and generally gaining experience.
By 2010 she was managing the Marussia team’s GP3 campaign.
Her role with Russian Time is easily defined. “The team manager looks after the technical side of running the cars and I organize everything else.”
She admits the job is not ideal from a personal perspective living out of a suitcase for a lot of the year.
“You need to like it. If you like it it’s not difficult.” At the moment Svetlana is often dealing with Russian Time business in the middle of the night, organizing the team’s fast approaching season from the bottom of the world.
This year is Markelov’s second outing in the Toyota Racing Series. Twelve months ago he finished seventh overall with three podium finishes on his debut.
Until a lambda probe failure in the engine management system at Hampton Downs last weekend, Markelov had been lying second on the points table with four podiums in the first six races.
That hic-cup has put him back to seventh with the Taupo and Manfeild rounds to go – three races at each track – over the next two weekends.
“Artem improved a lot after we were here last year,” said Strelnikova. “Racing here helps more than just staying home and doing the physical training.”
At Russian Time Svetlana has a simple philosophy of “making sure everything is going well. If everybody is happy the team works well.”
And in some respects the Toyota Racing Series copies the F1 and GP2 calendar. “In the middle of the year – May, June, July – we are racing just about every weekend just like here,” said Svetlana. “It gets very busy.”
After an uplift in the performance of Russian Time in the second half of last year, she is looking forward to the 2016 season. “We have most of the same personnel as last year, so it should work well.”
And in the more immediate future Markelov cannot be discounted to get back into podium contention here, such is the closeness of the points system. He is only 33 points behind second placed Pedro Piquet and with a win worth 75 points, anything is possible.