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New Sochi circuit wins FIA seal of approval

LONDON (Reuters) - Russia's new Sochi Formula One circuit has been cleared to host the country's first grand prix in October after a rave review from the sport's governing body.

International Automobile Federation (FIA) technical head Charlie Whiting, who conducts a detailed inspection of all new circuits, visited the Black Sea resort on Tuesday and said he was impressed by what he had seen.

"The circuit is in extremely good condition and – yes - it will be issued with a license," local organizers quoted the Briton as saying in a statement on Wednesday.

"Everything has been done according to the plans – the kerbs are very good, the verges, the guardrails, the walls – everything is in an extremely good condition.

"Everything has been done to the highest standards and I’m extremely pleased. I can say without hesitation that the circuit is ready 60 days in advance, which is very rare really."

Whiting indicated the inspection, before this weekend's Belgian Grand Prix, was likely to be his last before the traveling Formula One circus arrives for the Oct. 12 race around the park used for this year's Winter Olympics.

The grand prix, a showcase event for Russian president Vladimir Putin, will be the 16th round of the championship but is already controversial following the crisis in Ukraine and downing of a Malaysian airliner last month.

Western nations have imposed sanctions against Russia for its annexation of Crimea and what the United States and the European Union say is Moscow's backing for separatist rebels in east Ukraine.

Russia has responded by banning a range of agricultural products from the EU.

Formula One teams have ruled out any boycott of the race, unless there is government advice not to go, while the sport's commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone has made clear the event will go ahead as planned.

Whiting focused purely on the technical and construction issues and hailed what had been done since the Olympics ended in February.

"I was very impressed when I walked in to the Race Control building. It really does look extremely impressive," he said.

"Fundamentally, all Race Control buildings are the same, but in this particular case it’s been done with very latest high-tech equipment. The images we see at race control are absolutely superb.

"What I’ve seen today gives me complete comfort that the circuit will be entirely ready when I come back for the Grand Prix."

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)

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