Following the 2016 Canadian GP, the F1 circus swiftly began the most ridiculous travel schedule of the season – Montreal to Baku, Azerbaijan. This 15 hour direct flight – which will be direct only for F1’s elite – was an entirely predictable Ecclestone idea, given his previous form.
Whenever there may be unfavourable press around an F1 event – eg Bahrain post cancellation, the inaugural Russian GP – Mr. E decides that to back to back the event in question with another some distance away is the best way to keep journalists busy travelling and reporting on Formula One.
This lesson was hard learned by Ecclestone the year F1 was forced to cancel the Bahrain GP due to the popular uprising against the authoritarian state. The 2011 Bahrain GP was scheduled to be the opening round on the F1 calendar, however, the world’s media began broadcasting pictures of mass state force brutality and even protesters deaths; not something Bernie and his AL Khalifa friends were too keen have blitzed around the world.
So those who are trying to do Montreal to Baku on a budget are possibly connecting for the third time today as they fly into the lowest lying national capital city in the world. Baku is located 28 metres (92 ft) below sea level on the southern shore of the Absheron Peninsula and has an urban population of around 2 million – 25% of the total number of people in Azerbaijan. The city is renowned for high speed airstreams, hence its nickname – ‘The city of winds’.
The lack of opportunity for the F1 writers to produce content since Sunday has left us with the mish mash of pre-Montreal to Baku quotes, such as ‘Hamilton not won over by Baku “motorway”’. Lewis has driven the Baku circuit on the Mercedes simulator and sounds to be in despair when he states: “Monaco is THE street circuit. And they don’t make them like that. I don’t why they don’t, but why don’t they just make street circuits like they used to? I don’t understand”.
To the contrary, Fernando Alonso has given Baku the thumbs up. The track – which is entirely different to the one used by the FIA GT/Blancpain Championship in 2012-14 – has also been approved by FIA Formula One Race Director, Safety Delegate, Permanent Starter and head of the F1 Technical Department – Charlie Whiting.
Whiting believes the Baku event will be epic due to its mix of high speed and low speed sections combined with the backdrop of the cityscape.
The F1 race this weekend has been nominated as the ‘European GP’, a title which in itself is somewhat misleading. Yes, Baku hosted the European Athletics Championships recently, but even so this does not mean it is actually in Europe.
Baku does have an Istanbul-esque crossover point, which for many symbolises the bridge between East and West – Asia and Europe, yet the United Nations define the entire region as part of Asia.
‘Baku, capital of Azerbaijan’ is shown in Asia, by Larousse encyclopaedia p-618.
‘Azerbaijan is a constituent republic of the southern USSR, west of the Caspian sea. It was a former province of NW Iran between Turkey and Caspian Sea’. [p-102 Webster]
By both criteria both Azerbaijan & its capital are in Asia. Then again Wikipedia places Baku firmly on the outer most edge of Europe.
But hey – who cares. Why this race wasn’t just called the Asian GP is anyone’s guess.
Without counting Baku, at present there are 9 F1 races in Europe. Of course were say Germany and Italy to fall by the wayside this, would leave a paltry 7 – a number perilously close to leaving Bernie Ecclestone’s calendar in breach an agreement with the FIA.
Counting Baku in Europe conveniently bolsters the number of ‘homeland’ races, so who knows what’s next as the traditional F1 circuits die out. A race in Mosul, Tabriz or Ashgabat?
Never let it be said that F1 does not carry the spirit of freedom, justice and equality to whichever far flung corners of the world its big top pitches camp. In the run up to Azerbaijan’s big weekend on the world stage, an investigative journalist who had exposed official corruption and been imprisoned accordingly – was freed.
In fact, President Aliyev’s government granted a record number of pardons to 148 prisoners in March this year, including a number of human rights activists and journalists – though many others are still incarcerated.
In the end, to be in Europe or not – to grant human rights or not – the weekend in Baku will be judged by the quality of action on track; and at present we are promised ancient castles and uber modern buildings as the canvass on which will be painted another fairly uninteresting street race. Unless of course as some of the advanced FOM setup crew are suggesting, the track looks as though it may break up where its been laid on top of the cobblestones due to high temperatures around 35 degrees Celcius.