07262017

Ready for another round of 200mph chess? Azerbaijan GP preview

baku

The Azerbaijan Grand Prix is live on the BBC Sport website and radio 5 live

The Baku City Circuit’s entry on the Formula 1 calendar last year did not exactly stir the soul. Or not in a good way, anyway.

Expected to produce a race of visceral action, the European Grand Prix – as the event was titled on a one-off basis – created almost none at all.

Whether that was because the F1 drivers had been cautioned by a madly chaotic GP2 support event or not, it was not an encouraging debut for this controversial new race.

The street circuit in the capital of this oil-rich Caspian state that straddles the boundary between Europe and Asia is a succession of humdrum right-angled corners, a fiddly bit around a medieval castle and a long, long, long straight.

If it rained, things might be different – the kinks on the pit straight could become proper corners, for example – but in the dry it is one of the least inspiring tracks on the calendar.

And then there is the event itself. Retitled the Azerbaijan Grand Prix this year, it exists solely because the government of this autocratic republic with a questionable human rights record signed what is believed to be the most lucrative contract in F1 with the sport’s former boss Bernie Ecclestone.

track graphic of the baku city circuit in azerbaijan<!–

Before Azerbaijan offered a reputed $70m a year for a race, precisely no-one was saying, “Do you know what? We really need a grand prix in Azerbaijan.”

Precisely no-one is still saying that, least of all F1’s new owners.

Indeed, Greg Maffei, the chief executive of Liberty Media, which bought the sport’s commercial arm in January, admitted earlier this year that F1 taking to “places like Baku in Azerbaijan where they paid us a big race fee but it does nothing to build the long-term brand and health of the business. Our job is to find partners that pay us well but also help us to build the product.”

Baku is a pleasant enough place on the surface, with the centre resembling a historic European city, such as Paris or Barcelona. The difference is that much of Baku is just a few decades old – it has simply been designed to look historic.

The result is an event – like the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi – that looks attractive on television, but where the reality is less appealing than the image the race’s paymasters would like to present.

Andrew Benson, chief F1 writer

Ex in the City

Big-name musical guests are not uncommon at race weekends – Taylor Swift was the main attraction at the Canadian Grand Prix in 2016 – but how about your ex-girlfriend as one of the star headliners on the bill?

Lewis Hamilton will need to stay focused on the race when former girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger takes to the stage with the Black Eyed Peas.

Lewis Hamilton and Nicole Scherzinger<!–

“So… how’ve you been?!”

Where is Baku again?

Just in case you need a refresher… follow the giant arrow!

A map of Azerbaijan<!–

Famous son

Azerbaijan isn’t really a hot bed for Hollywood A-listers, but Russian chess grandmaster and former world champion Garry Kasparov is a Baku native.

Former world chess champion Garry Kasparov<!–

Even a chess grandmaster needs some high-octane excitement every now and then

Rosberg reminisces

Another Grand Prix weekend, another Nico Rosberg throwback tweet.

The retired world champion led from the first corner and left the rest of the field for dust to claim the inaugural win at the Baku City Circuit.

Nico Rosberg Twitter<!–

The story so far

Title contenders: the story so far. Hamilton has won 3 races, and Vettel 3<!–

Who has finished where

How to follow on BBC Sport

BBC Sport has live coverage of all the season’s races on BBC Radio 5 live, BBC Radio 5 live sports extra, plus live online commentary on the BBC Sport website and mobile app – including audience interaction, expert analysis, debate, voting, features, interviews and video content.

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