JAMES ROBERTS

F1 RAC­ING’S AS­SO­CIATE ED­I­TOR “Baku looks like a great chal­lenge”

Motor Sport News - - Racing News - Pho­tos:jakob Ebrey By Rob Lad­brook

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.

Grif­fin and Sims were taken out of the lead Grif­fin: con­sid­er­ing fu­ture

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