CEO: Baku race name change to Azerbaijan Grand Prix will be ideal

Rahimov believes visa on arrival move for GCC passport holders will rope in more fans

Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Azerbaijan are keen to rename the European Grand Prix, Baku to the Azerbaijan Grand Prix for the 2017 season.

Azerbaijan, located in the South Caucasus region at the crossroads of Southwest Asia and Southeastern Europe bounded by the Caspian Sea to the east and Russia to the north, got a boost to their sporting aspirations this season when they hosted the European Grand Prix.

The opportunity came after the Valencia Street Circuit in Spain was removed from the calendar in 2013 and they are now keen on building on it to make Baku a sporting tourist destination.

“The name Azerbaijan GP is still not confirmed but we want it changed. We have shown that we are a city with a European mentality to the world. We have hosted a lot of sporting activity with the name European Games. Now everyone knows that and so we want to showcase Azerbaijan,” said CEO of the Baku Circuit Arif Rahimov, who was present for the final F1 race of the calendar, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Azerbaijan has started visas on arrival for GCC passport holders and Rahimov feels the move is a big turning point that will lure more people from the Middle East to come to Baku for the next Grand Prix.

“We understand the importance of Middle East and the entire Arab region. The visa on arrival is a huge move and that will open doors for more F1 fans travelling to Azerbaijan. The tickets will go on sale from December and people who buy them early can enjoy better discounts,” said Rahimov, who was also happy with the drivers’ response he got after a race which had drawn a lot of criticism early on.

“Unfortunately, most of the drivers were not that happy when they came there. One of the reasons was they didn’t have proper simulators. It was done last minute and lot of teams came and did a lot of measurement. In the simulators, the circuit wasn’t that appealing,” said Rahimov, whose aspirations were knocked after defending champion Lewis Hamilton also raised his concerns about the new circuit.

“Lewis was not happy when he came there but after the first lap, he was okay because the circuit is challenging. It is unforgiving because the actual walls are really close to the white lines. There are a lot of fast, slow and some elevations. However, the feedback we got later was that most drivers liked it,” revealed Rahimov, adding that the stakeholders were equally satisfied with the mileage they got from media across the world.

Though Baku’s contract with the F1 governing body is for 10 years they certainly have the logistic challenges to meet every year with the entire circuit having to be recreated every year. In the inaugural season, they also sought help from Bahrain to support them in the cause and have signed a contract.

“Yes, I have to build everything and take it down and build it again as it is a city circuit. There are only three or four circuits like this in the calendar and even those circuits have some permanent parts. We have to store those structures in (a) warehouse so yes, it is a challenge but we are more than willing to do that,” said Rahimov, adding that they will be needing less numbers for marshals to help this time round.

“We had around 200 odd people including marshals to get the inaugural event running smoothly but that will change as we have managed to train our own marshals. Some of them are also here this weekend. So that number will reduce in the coming years and we will be able to handle the setup on our own,” asserted Rahimov, who was also hoping that F1 would provide the right platform and inspiration for the youth in Ajerbaijan to follow motorsports.

“We would love to have a permanent circuit but as of now we don’t have. Maybe F1 will bring in that interest and (the) government will plan on having something where youth can go and practice, like karting. We have to wait and see how it goes. As of now, F1 is a huge step and we want to make sure that we put our best foot forward every year,” said Rahimov.

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