The Azerbaijani government has announced that it has struck a deal with Bernie Ecclestone to stage its first Formula 1 race from 2016 onwards.
Reports emerged earlier in the year that a race in the country’s capital, Baku, was being mooted. The oil and gas-rich country has one of the fastest growing economies in the world, and the government is wanting to invest some of this wealth into promoting growth and employment outside of the energy sector, which contributes roughly 90% of the nation’s entire export market.
Its huge economy means that the country can afford to pay for a Grand Prix in a country with a population little bigger than some of Europe’s largest cities.
Azad Rahimov, Azerbaijan’s Minister of Youth and Sports, has announced that a deal has been finalised and will be formally announced in due course.
The country has been on the international motorsport calendar for the last two years, staging a round of the FIA GT Series (now known as the Blancpain Sprint Series) on a 4.37-kilometre street circuit on the capital’s Caspian Sea shoreline. Outside of its two GT races, the country has next to no motorsport heritage.
It is not yet known if the Grand Prix will take place on a street circuit layout in Baku, or whether a purpose-built facility will be constructed
by Hermann Tilke for its inaugural Grand Prix.
The announcement is no great surprise, and neither is the timing given Ecclestone is in the early stages of his bribery trial in Munich.
While such announcements can help keep the uglier news items off the main pages of newspapers and websites, the bad news is that Azerbaijan is hardly a bedrock of transparent governance. The Transparency International commission ranked it outside the top-100 countries, giving it a similar corruption ranking to neighboring Russia.
That effectively makes Azerbaijan the worst-ranked country where Formula 1’s footprint will be imprinted in the last twenty years. The likes of India (94th), China (80th), Brazil (72nd), Italy (69th) and Bahrain (57th) are all better ranked – although hardly flatteringly – and Azerbaijan’s inclusion would support the theory that Ecclestone and the sport’s Commercial Rights Holders are continuing to chase the countries with the biggest cheque books.
Image via F1 Destinations