F1 RACING’S ASSOCIATE EDITOR “Baku looks like a great challenge”
History will be made on Friday when F1 practice commences on the streets of Baku for the very first time.
Azerbaijan will be the 32nd different country to host a grand prix in the 66-year history of the Formula 1 world championship. The new 3.7-mile track that winds its way around the port and historic centre of the capital city will be a step into the unknown for drivers and teams alike.
It will also be a huge logistical undertaking to transport the tonnes of freight from a small island in the middle of Montreal’s St Lawrence seaway, across both the Atlantic and the continent of Europe, to a small promontory on the edge of the Caspian Sea.
In 2012, Baku hosted the Eurovision Song Contest, last year the inaugural European Games athletics tournament (affiliated to the Olympics) and in 2020 will host group games and one of the quarter-finals of the UEFA European Football Championships. And as an extension of that, the organisers have asked Mr Ecclestone whether they can host the 2016 ‘Grand Prix of Europe.’
Following the fall of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan needed foreign investment and started building a 1,000-mile long pipeline – via its allies in Turkey – which now pumps a million barrels of oil a day straight into ships queuing up in the Mediterranean. Boom. As soon as the taps were turned on in the middle of 2005, the money from the west flowed just as quickly back into Baku.
The result is that in the last 10 years, Baku has been transformed. From the moment you arrive at the newly-built airport, you’re confronted by a city in growth. Skyscrapers, modern architecture, cultural buildings, sports stadiums and only one in 30 cars is a Lada. The rest are Mercedes, BMWS, Toyotas.
Having visited Baku in early March with Fernando Alonso for a story for sister publication F1 Racing, I was surprised at how European the city was. It’s certainly very different from the excursions F1 has previously made to similarly oil-rich nations in the nearby Middle East. With its Parisian-style boulevards and medieval quarter, the capital of Azerbaijan has a rich culture – and the circuit should be pretty spectacular too. Alonso was certainly impressed as we toured the circuit (which at that stage was still under construction).
“It will be different to the other street circuits we race on,” he said. “The main straight is very long and if we take Turn 16 & 17 flat out then we run a total of 1.2 miles at full throttle, which is similar in length to Turn 1 [La Source] to Turn 5 [Les Combes] at Spa.”
For a street circuit – that will be very quick indeed. Think of the start and finish of the lap at Macau: 90 degree corners and long straights. Forget the naysayers that moan about F1 moving away from its classic tracks. The sport needs to continue its global expansion and – for a number of reasons – Baku looks as though it will be a great challenge.
British GT title challenger Liam Griffin is considering sitting out the next round of the championship at Spa-francorchamps after repeated incidents with cars racing in the combined European GT4 Series last weekend.
Barwell Lamborghini Huracan racer Griffin and co-driver Alexander Sims were taken out of the lead of the Silverstone 500 after contact at Vale with a lapped Porsche running in the Euro GT4 category.
The in-race collision followed a similar accident with a different GT4 car during second practice on Saturday, and a hit with another during testing on Friday.
A total of 17 cars from SRO’S European GT4 joined the British GT grid to swell the entry to 51 cars. They are also due to share the grid at Spa for the next race on July 8/9.