The European Grand Prix, which has lay dormant since it was last held in Valencia in 2012, has been revived and relocated for 2016. Baku, a new addition to an expanded calendar for the 2016 Formula One season, will be the new home of the race in a season which is set to feature a record 21 races.
Azerbaijan’s capital has hosted a handful of GT races in recent years but the Grand Prix represents a significant step up.
The six kilometre, anti-clockwise circuit is the latest to be drawn up by preferred Formula One racetrack designer Hermann Tilke. “Obviously street circuits present a number of challenges, in terms of circuit design, but we have been able to incorporate some unique features that will provide the teams and fans with fascinating racing,” said Tilke.
Keen to draw inspiration and garner advice from Formula One’s only other current street circuits, Baku’s race promoter, Baku Grand Prix Limited, has hosted workshops with the organisers of the Singapore and Monaco Grands Prix and visited both during the 2015 season. “We’ve actually been to both of the races: we sent a team to go there before the race to learn how things are being done as city races because it’s very specific and it’s not something widely done,” said Arif Rahimov, the chief executive of Baku Grand Prix Limited.
Beginning beside Azadliq Square, the drivers will loop around the capital’s Government House before circling Baku’s medieval Old City. The main straight, and the location for the pit lanes, will be a 2.2 kilometre stretch beside the Caspian Sea. “Another thing is that we also have quite a lot of elevations, at least 50 per cent of our track is up and down hill, which is quite exciting for the drivers and the spectators”, said Rahimov.
“We have both hairpins at points and also some long straights so there’s a combination on the track. Sometimes you can see a little bit of Suzuka in there and sometimes a little bit of Monaco. You cannot really define it as one type of track. We’re the fastest street circuit on the calendar at the moment so it will definitely be interesting.”
A lack of hotel beds to cater for large numbers of travelling Formula One fans has been identified as an obstacle by the organisers, who hope to lure large numbers of locals to turn out for the inaugural race. “At the moment we are looking at two main streams of income. One is obviously ticket sales, both local and international,” stated Rahimov. “On the international side there is a little bit of a constraint with the number of hotel rooms in Azerbaijan so we’re going to be quite on full capacity for the international sales. And on the local sales there will be a lot of general admission tickets as well as the grandstand tickets.”