How F1 in Baku became a tool of spite

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Brought to you by TJ13 contributor Tourdog

The 2016 F1 schedule has been ‘leaked’,  revised and released again but is still in question. The implications for the teams and the fans are huge. With the Australian Grand Prix less than 5 months away, no one really knows exactly when it will be. It was penned in for April and now has ben moved back to March where it may or may not remain.

Fans who have booked flights and accommodation for Australia have this week been complaining to the race organisers, who can do little about their gripes. While this will not effect the billionaire class in the slightest, their private jets and mega-yachts are always on stand by, but the mere mortals who rely upon the airline and hotel industry end up paying cancelation fees and late booking premiums for last minute bookings.

The lead times for F1 car development are so long, that no doubt this the revised schedule is effecting the majority of the teams, especially since the testing schedule is dependent on when the first race happens. Add to the equation the fact that 3 teams do not even know what power unit they will be running next year (if they show up at all), and there is a good possibility that several teams may have be forced to forgo testing in February – and may even be unable to bring their most developed car to the first race.

But the problems go beyond just the first race. Mr. E’s choice to add another race in Azerbaijan which brings the total number for 2016 to 21, is causing ripples through the racing world.

First of all, Article 5.4 of the 2016 Formula 1 Sporting Regulations states:

“The maximum number of Events in the Championship is 20, the minimum is 8”

So in order for their to be 21 races, the sporting regulations will need to be changed, which means a unanimous vote. A unanimous anything in F1 is nigh on impossible, so how this regulation will be altered without someone demanding their piece of flesh is unclear. Additionally, if there are more than 20 races, the limit of 4 PU’s will required for the season needs to be augmented to 5. This significantly raises the costs to customer teams, unless of course another regulation is created which limits the annual cost of customer PU’s.

There are some interesting questions surrounding the new “European Grand Prix”. Although, the title itself is a joke, because Azerbaijan is NOT in Europe. Some paddock folk in the know, reckon this race has been labelled the “Eurpoean GP” just so Bernie can meet his quota of european races

Baku is in fact in Asia, just a 100mi from Iran, 350 miles from Iraq, and 450 miles from Syria. The Azerbaijan capital sits on the Caspian Sea where the Russian navy is currently operating and launching missiles into Syria. It was reported this week that around 20% Russia’s technologically advanced cruise missiles “missed” their targets in Syria and landed short in Iraq. This puts Baku smack dab in the middle between Russian forces and Syria, not a very safe place to be if the conflict continues.

Beyond the possibility of missiles being launched over the heads of the F1 paddock, Azerbaijan’s human right standing in the world is abysmal. According to human rights watch 2014 world report:

The Azerbaijani government’s poor record on freedom of expression, assembly, and association dramatically deteriorated during the year. The authorities arrested dozens of political activists on bogus charges, imprisoned critical journalists, broke up several peaceful public demonstrations, and adopted legislation that further restricted fundamental freedoms. This crackdown was the backdrop for the October 2013 presidential election, in which incumbent President Ilham Aliyev was re-elected for a third term with 84.5 percent of the vote.

The government continued its urban renewal campaign in the capital Baku, forcibly evicting hundreds of families without adequate compensation. Torture and ill-treatment persists with impunity.

In 2013, the authorities used a range of spurious charges—including narcotics and weapons possession, hooliganism, incitement, and even treason—to imprison political activists critical of the government. These activists included several high-ranking opposition political party members…

Torture and ill-treatment continue with impunity. In the first nine months of 2013, the Azerbaijan Committee Against Torture, an independent prison monitoring group, received 96 complaints alleging ill-treatment in custody.

Its well known that Mr. E sees no issue with human rights abuses in Azerbaijan, but the same cannot be said for all of the teams. This is not the first time the location of an F1 race in such a state has caused problems. Most notably was in 2012, when Force India refused to run in practice at Bahrain because several members of their team were caught in the middle of a protest and subsequent police pushback.  They had been shaken up enough to not run in practice. Nothing came of this other than for Bernie to essentially blacklist FI from the FOM feed. None of the major media outlets seemed willing to dare touch on the issue for fear of pissing off Bernie. So the race has continued to this day.

However, the world is changing rapidly and pressure is are regularly brought to bear on large corporations over issues like human rights. It is not out of the question that a team like Mercedes could get pushback from not only the German population, but from the German government over their involvement in the Baku race.

Ferrari of course don’t care. They would sell cars to the devil himself if the price was right, and the Italian government dare not interfere with anything Ferrari does So there are no consequences for Maranello to consider.

Insurance for teams could though become an issue. Insurance companies are in the business of making money and if they perceive the risk of incident too great, they could remove employer liability cover; then would the race be cancelled if no one was allowed to show up?

Bernie can call this the “European GP till he’s blue in the face, it doesn’t change the fact the country is run by a dictator whome the EU have little influence with.

The timing of the Baku race is also highly questionable. The race is 6000 miles away from Montreal, but back to back with, the Canadian GP it has been set. Logistically speaking this is an utter nightmare. The teams will pack their kit up through the night and on Monday morning will have to fly out from Canada. The journey is a full day long (15 hours flight time with layovers, and 10 time zone changes).

Then the team personnel will be straight back to building the cars almost immediately after landing, giving them no break and hitting them with the worst jet lag imaginable. The schedule also means no time for legitimate government customs authorities to inspect the 6 jumbo jets worth of equipment arriving on their soil. So, we can assume Bernie has taken care of this with his latest friendly dictator buddy.

This kind of schedule is not the planning of a sane individual, but then again its Bernie Ecclestone we’re discussing. The only logical conclusion we can draw from this plan is that the Baku race was deliberately planned to conflict with LeMans, line the small one’s pockets and give a big middle finger to the FIA.

Since 2011, there has been a “gentleness agreement” between the WEC, F1 and the FIA that ensures Formula 1 will not schedule a race on the same weekend as LeMans. Yet the interest generated last year by the crossover from F1 to Sports cars by Nico Hulkneberg must have irritated Mr. E, who adores his child’s exclusivity in the limelight. Hulkenberg competing in Le Mans  last year created huge interest amongst Formula One fans and was the talk of the F1 paddock at the following race.

This is something Bernie cannot allow to happen.

Perhaps this is why there are not just one or two conflicts between WEC race weekends and F1 next year, but 5. Granted, conflicts are inevitable, but being that both series are technically under the control of the FIA, the LeMans clash in particular should have been stopped by Todt before it was even considered.

Of course the WEC is some kind of threat to Bernie’s business. Running sportscars and F1 cars on the same tracks makes it easy to compare lap times, and make judgments regarding the cost of F1 vs the cost of WEC based on their different cars performance levels. Clearly at present, LMP1 is too close for comfort.

Yesterday, Gerard Neveu, who runs LeMans, has gone public with his thoughts on the conflict.

“It’s a clear attack on us and on this race. Ecclestone never does anything nonchalantly.”

“It is a shame because by doing this you take away the possibility of having F1 stars entering what still is the most important race in the world. We could have had Hulkenberg and also other F1 drivers – motorsport fans are losing out.”

Make no mistake, the scheduling of the Baku race is a statement about power. Bernie has it and Jean Todt does not. The apparent disinterested attitude the president of the FIA has towards Formula One is allowing Ecclestone to run roughshod over whoever stands in his way.

Formula 1 needs a Captian with vision, a leader who is looking to the future, a commander with the will and power to make changes for the good of the sport, and not one looking to merely increase the size of his ‘investors’ bank accounts.

Jean Todt has preferred to focus his attentions as FIA president on international road car issues, and giving the impression he is alowing Formula One to crash and burn. Todt has aspirations for the higher office than just the Place de Concorde throne and gives the impression he prefers playing politics whilst leaving F1 in the hands of Bernie.

Maybe the grand French plan is to allow Ecclestone enough rope to hang himself and bring about the collapse of the sport. The the FIA can step in and take control and raise Formula One like a phoenix from the ashes.

Then again…

HRT, Caterham, and Marussia all collapsed. Lotus, Red Bull, Toro Rosso, could be gone in a few short weeks. Sauber and Force India have filed an official complaint with the EU. Races in Bahrain, Russia, and Azerbaijan are highly questionable on any number of grounds.

There’s no other way of saying it. Our beloved sport is in chaos and Captain Bernie is steering the ship into the rocks, whilst Admiral Todt is drunk in a metaphorical brothel someplace on earth – but wearing his seatbelt.

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12 responses to “How F1 in Baku became a tool of spite

  1. The most absurd thing about the race in Azerbaijan is that it’s called the “European GP”. This country borders with Iran in the South and with Turkey (another hardly European territory) in Asia Minor. Most people speak a dialect of Turkish and are at least nominally Muslim. It’s borderline scandalous that at the time when the French GP is already gone, and there is a question mark lingering over two other historically significant European races, Bernie finds a place in the calendar for another banana republic race.

  2. Welk I’ll still be watching le mans. The last couple of years the 24 hours where better races than most grand prix…

    • I think if you take a pole,many f1 fans are feeling the same. The WEC cars are really starting to poke the F1 hallowed ground of innovation and so quickly becoming a more advanced series.

  3. I suspect Bernie is a fan of the Eurovision Song Contest. Azerbaijan won it a couple of years ago so in Bernieland, it must be in Europe!
    This year, Australia were in the contest (yes- honestly!) so we can now expect the Uberdwarf to claim Melbourne as a European race. Geography was never a strong point in the North Suffolk community….

  4. Don’t the FIA still have to ratify this calendar? Although it is unlikely anyone there has the cojones to say no to Bernie…

  5. Nice piece. Sad but true.

    Loved the conclusion.
    “There’s no other way of saying it. Our beloved sport is in chaos and Captain Bernie is steering the ship into the rocks, whilst Admiral Todt is drunk in a metaphorical brothel someplace on earth – but wearing his seatbelt.”

    Todt is already 69. Time’s against him if he wants to patiently wait for Bernie to hang himself and destroy F1 so he can swoop in as the hero rescuer. Or maybe F1 isn.t even around in 2017.

  6. I wish an f1 team had the balls to write an f1 driver’s contract in such a way that said driver would drive Le Mans and have the reserve driver run the “European F1 GP” in case of conflict.

    I wish.

  7. Surely it is up to Hülkenberg if he wants to defend his Le Mans title or not. It is also up to his team if they will let him go or not. If the Force India team had any balls, they would stick 2 fingers up at Bernie and let Hülkenberg race there.

  8. Bernie’s just extorting money from azerbedjian. Upfront money for signing and then… Oops! Couldn’t get it done with FIA, sorry guys. Till I see it I don’t believe this race is real.

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