On June 19, the Formula One circus will travel to Baku, a city in Azerbaijan situated on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Why? Because the government is paying Bernie Ecclestone a cubic mile of dollars so his lackeys, the Formula One teams, will tout the essential goodness and tourist possibilities of a nation that is in many ways still and old style Soviet dictatorship.
Ecclestone has often expressed his preference for authoritarian governments. He is comfortable making nice with Vladimir Putin, the sultans of Gulf countries like Bahrain and Abu Dhabi, and the people who rule the roost in Singapore. Civil rights and personal liberty are of no concern to Bernie. If a repressive regime has the money, he’s got the show.
The track in Baku will be a street circuit that runs through downtown. Like most street circuits, it has lots of 90º turns and very few sweeping curves. The racing line is bracketed by concrete barriers. Like Monaco, there are almost no places where drivers can run wide or pull off in the event of mechanical issues.
The run down to the first corner is a long straight. The cars will be traveling 160 mph or more when they get to it. Many think there is strong possibility of what David Hobbs likes to call a “grand carambalage” followed by a red flag or safety car while course workers try to clean up the mess.
Azerbaijan is a particularly poor choice for a racing series that is spending billions to present itself as environmentally conscious. The nation’s primary economic activity is oil production. In fact, the first oil well in the area commenced operations in 1874. Coupled with its reputation for corruption and authoritarian government, it represent nothing more than how tone deaf Ecclestone has become in his dotage. Formula One is no longer about racing. It is all about greed.
Street circuits, by and large, are poor places to run races. The drivers themselves see nothing but a canyon of concrete walls. The track in Baku does include some interesting old structures from the country’s past, but mostly it streams by block after block of apartment buildings straight out of the Soviet school of architecture.
How long will the Azerbaijan grand prix last? Many give it 2 to 3 years before it joins other former Formula One venues like Turkey, India, and Korea. The answer is, Azerbaijan will be on the grand prix calendar as long as the government continues to pay Bernie enormous bribes. Once the money stops, the race will quickly move on to the next cash cow.
Below is a video of a low level race car going around the circuit at slow speed. It will give you a better idea of what the track will look like from the drivers’ perspective.