Alan Berkov

Alan Berkov; The F1 test that never happened

Blog Forgotten F1 drivers

It felt difficult to write the story about Alan Berkov and his Formula One test that never happened. Berkov was probably one of the few drivers from the Russian Federation after the fall of the USSR that popped up in Europe. Around 1998 he was in speaking terms with the Arrows team of Tom Walkinshaw, sources state that a contract was already signed, to test for the team. Tom asked 1,2 million dollars for the test. While Berkov was able to get the amount of money. He got killed in 1998 because of his kind character. Therefore this article is written in memoriam of Alan Berkov.

Before i want to kick of the story about Berkov. I believe i have to tell this first. According to some sources Alan was accused of rape. I couldn’t find the needed evidence for it like official documents. The sources stating as well that he went two years, prior his autosport carreer started, in some sort of working camp and was sentenced as well 1,5 years of jail. It seems he was not guilty to the rape, though it is how the USSR seemed to work back in those days. If proof can be given he did I will, as with the Brabham story, shorten his name.

Alan Berkov was born in on the 29th of November 1969 in Swietłoje in the former USSR. In his early 20s, he completed car courses at the DOSAAF. It wouldn’t take long before he would be imprisoned, though it had also his good outcomes. He met some people who were arrested by accepting the free-market, as in the west, and making some good money with it in the USSR. Berkov learned some of the tricks from them, which would help him eventually to start his racing career.

In 1991, he had his first taste with the Formula One when he went as visitor to the Hungarian Grand Prix at the Hungaroring. Ayrton Senna won that Grand Prix, who would play a role in Berkov’s later career. A year later Berkov, after the fall of the USSR, went to Great Britain with the budget to attempt the racing school led by Jim Russel. Previously he was advised by a former German driver to go to the racing school. Information is scarce about this period of time. What’s for sure is that he had zero experience when he went to the racing school. Eventually he managed to obtain a British B license. Which allowed him to race in the UK.  

I’m unsure if he races that year. I figured out that he went back to Russia to seek sponsors. As he was from the Caucasus, he was told to change his name; he was born as Mukhtar Bajramukov, as he would get easier sponsors. In 1993, he went back to the UK or Europe to race in the Formula Ford, a year later he would race in the Formula Opel Lotus. I’m not sure in which series it was locally or internationally. At some point in 1993 he came across with Ayrton Senna, his idol, Senna decided to meet with Berkov. As he was interested in the Russian rising star. The meeting gave Berkov some extra boost in his career.

From that meeting on he managed to score more points, and gain more places in the races. Because of his scores, he received the Bristish A Licence. Later on as well, the international C and B license which opened the doors for more series. It is not sure where he raced in 1994; I wasn’t able to uncover this somehow. Though, we all remember that horrible weekend in Imola where Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna let their lives. The dead of Senna shocked Berkov a lot. He was one of the persons who had the biography about Senna translated to Russian.

In 1995, his career got the boost he needed. Fred Goddard recruited him to race for his Z-Speed Racing Team in the British F3 championship.  He would compete in Class B with a Dallara F394. However, he had to skip the first six races of the season. Which resulted in an overall ninth place in his class. If he would have competed all the races and didn’t retire the first race at Pembrey he would have finished higher.

There is an obscure reason for it, he had to skip the first races. When he met with several potential sponsors in February 1995 in Moscow. After a dinner he decided to go to a nightclub with the banker that was to sponsor him. When they left Berkov and someone else entered a car. While the banker entered another car. At the entry of Novy Arbat, now known as Marriot, some people started to shoot with AK47’s on the car he was sitting in. After the incident, which was meant for the banker, the banker brought Berkov to a private clinic before he flew him to Israel to another private clinic to have his recover. 

Besides this accident, Berkov was able to show some decent results in the British F3 Class B championship, you can see them here.  

In 1996, Alan Berkov raced the first race at Oulton Park in the British F2 Championship. Only seven drivers started that race. While most of them drove in the new Reynard 95D powered by Cosworth, Berkov drove the much older Reynard 93D. He finished sixth that race and scored one point. From there on it’s vague what he did. He only did that one race for Fred Goddard Racing.

Again, there are reports of some weird events happening with criminals, I couldn’t really understand what was happening. One of his friends was held hostage in 1996 in Moscow. The authorities forced Berkov to become a negotiator. After this, he was detained by the Russian authorities. He was noticed on a photo with Princess Diana. This is why I don’t have a clue what is happening here to start with. At some point his sponsors Effect-Kredit and Lukoil were involved as well.

Whether his conviction or not in the summer of 1996 he was on speaking terms with the Arrows Team of Jackie Oliver. It is said that he signed a deal with the team to race for them in the Formula 3000 and be their 3th driver in the Formula One, giving him circuit time during several Grand Prix’s. It was even said that he would participate, as soon he acquired his super licence, during the Portuguese and the Italian Grand Prix. He had to pay 1,2million dollar for this contract. His sponsors would only pay a part of the needed money.

Its when he became friends with Ruben Barrichello in England, he helped him to find new sponsors.  Eventually the plan was to devote himself to get fitter to be able to race a full season in the Formula One.

The paper Kommersant reported in April 1996 that Berkov was in speaking terms with three Formula One teams for a seat during the British Grand Prix. The Arrows team, Jordan Grand Prix and Tyrrell Racing. Both Arrows and Tyrrell asked 300.000 dollar to compete in the race. While Jordan Grand Prix asked 350.000 dollar to compete. More interesting is the fact that Berkov would test with Tyrrell at Silverstone in May.

On the 5th of August 1996, appeared with an article that Giancarlo Minardi was looking to test Alan Berkov. Instantly the rumour went that Minardi was looking for more former USSR sponsors at that time. It seems no other news regarding this test was published afterwards.

In 1997, another twist happened, Berkov was charged with murder. He was held in custody for four months before they released him. A lack of proof he killed someone. He did not trust the Russian justice anymore and was ready to move to England permanently where he did feel respected. I wasn’t able to uncover any more race results or race info regarding the 1997 season.

The same goes for 1998. There is no information where he raced that year. Assumable he drove in the F3 or F3000 though I didn’t find his name in the records or entry lists.  However, the rumours state that he was once again with Arrows in negotiation. This time with Tom Walkinshaw who took over the Arrows team from Jackie Oliver. As well, he was linked with a F3000 team to race for. Though, as said I wasn’t able to find any racing records with his name In it. It is said though that his test with Arrows was arranged for late in the season.

However, the test would never happen. On the 31th of October 1998, Alan Berkov was executed along with seven others by some Russian mob. Berkov helped earlier someone with drugs problems to get clean. Little did he know then it would cost his life six months later.

In the end, Sergey Zlobin would become the first Russian to taste the Formula One. 2002, he tested with the Minardi PS01, with the PS02 livery, at Mugello. In 2003, he would become Minardi’s official test driver. While he tested once more with Minardi in 2004. Coincidental or not in 2007, he survived a bomb attack…

Below are two youtube video’s of Berkov.