Following Wednesday’s announcement that Mexico will return to F1 next year, Azerbaijan this morning revealed that it will join the grand prix calendar in 2016, hosting a new iteration of the European Grand Prix in the country’s capital, Baku.
“I am delighted to officially announce that we have signed a contract to bring Formula One racing to Baku in 2016. Our location at the crossroads of eastern Europe and western Asia is a new frontier for Formula One racing,” said Azerbaijan’s Minister of Youth and Sport, Azad Rahimov.
“Azerbaijan is a modern European country that has established a reputation as a centre of sporting excellence. The deal to bring Formula One racing to Baku is a very significant new chapter in our ongoing success to attract the world’s largest sporting events to our country,” he added.
With Azerbaijan located on the shores of the Caspian Sea, it might seem like stretching a point to brand the event as a European Grand Prix, but the country has been a member of the Council of Europe since 2001 and plays its international football as a member of UEFA. Rather than brand the race as the Grand Prix of Azerbaijan, the choice of the European Grand Prix as a title signifies a desire to more closely align the former Soviet Republic with its western neighbours.
The new race will take place a street circuit in Baku, against a backdrop of the city’s medieval Old City and the Caspian Sea. While the design of the street circuit has yet to be finalised, Rahimov revealed that it is envisaged that Baku’s Azadliq Square will accommodate the race start, main grandstand and pits and that the racetrack will include major roads and landmarks such as Neftchilar Avenue, Government House and Maiden Tower.
Baku has hosted street racing before, with an event known as the City Challenge Baku, featuring GT3-spec cars, taking place in 2012. The FIA GT Championship took over last year with its Baku World Challenge, racing on a new 4.380km circuit (pictured above) around Crystal Hall – the venue built to host the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest – and the National Flag Square. The Baku World Challenge event will form the final round of this year’s Blancpain Sprint Series sportscar race in November.