Arif Rahimov, the organiser of next seasons’s Baku Grand Prix in Azerbaijan, is in the paddock this weekend at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and JA on F1 took the opportunity to speak to him about the new race which will take place in June 2016.
It will be billed as the Grand Prix of Europe, underlining Azerbaijan’s desire to associate itself with Europe with which it has trading links especially via its oil pipeline.
Based on a street layout, which passes through the modern and the medieval parts of Baku, the circuit will have an average speed of 210km/h which is very fast for a street track and is similar in speed to Interlagos and Sochi. Top speeds on the straight are estimated at over 340km/h on the 2.2 kilometre long straight that runs along Baku’s waterfront.
There are no concerns with the track being ready on time.
Q: Give us a flavour of the character of the circuit
AR: As a city circuit you are bound by what the streets are telling you to do, there’s only so much you can play with it. We’ve tried to incorporate all the beautiful parts of the city and we really wanted to have some elevations within the city to make sure we have a change of altitude because that is what racers enjoy. We wanted the circuit to be fast because that represents the nature of our city and our country as growing and a beautiful city that we’re trying to present to the world by having the fastest street circuit of the season.
It’s the fastest street circuit of the season – about 210kph [average speed]. It’s really fast, especially for a street circuit. We have a maximum speed of about 340kph on the main straight, which is almost the fastest top speed you can get on any F1 circuit throughout the season.
Apart from that we have a beautiful backdrop from any camera angle you can enjoy because of all the new parts of the city to showcase, [and] we have the medieval part with the UNSECO protected old city and we have all the new skyscrapers, flame tower, maiden tower, all landmarks that you can really see on the TV and the spectators can see for the themselves. It will be a great race.
Q: Does it help building a street track as there are infrastructures you don’t have to build?
Arif Rahimov: You don’t have to build the roads and some parts of it that you don’t have to build and it adds up to other challenges, like building all the temporary infrastructure and all the logistics of it – building it, removing it and installing it. All of the modifications that you have to do within the city limits you too what you can do. Thankfully we have a plan to overcome all of the challenges and it all looks very doable to us, we’ve already started some parts of it.
Q: Have you learnt much from other circuits?
AR: We’ve been to Singapore twice – once last year and then this year – to talk to the promoters and they’ve been really helpful. They’ve shared all the challenges that they’ve had and how they’ve overcome these challenges and what they’ve done to deliver what they deliver because they deliver an amazing race.
We’ve also been to Monaco a couple of times this year to talk to the promoters, the Automobile club de Monaco, who also shared some experience. So we’re working a lot with the promoters to sort of make sure that we don’t do anything that has been done and tested basically.
Q: Have you learnt a lot about marketing from other races?
AR: We’re quite a unique race so we’re trying to position ourselves as quite a unique race and not to copy exactly any of the stuff the other races have done.
It all varies from race to race – some aim [to sell tickets] internally, some aim towards international sales. We’re trying to do both, we’re trying to sell as much internationally to promote the sport and we’re selling locally as well.
Q: What would be a sell-out for you?
AR: We’re looking at around 28,000 tickets and that’s with around 20,000 seated tickets and 8,000 general admission tickets.
Q: I know that Azerbaijan is putting itself on the map with the pipeline to Europe, so is trade with Europe what this race is about or is also about attracting tourists?
AR: We’re definitely trying to promote our city as a tourist destination because it is a beautiful city. Formula 1 is a great platform to do that, then will be plenty of spectators on TV and it’s a great attraction for tourists, so yes we’re definitely doing it for the tourists as well.
Q: What is your own background and how involved is the Government in backing this?
AR: I was in the construction business for a long time and I was also passionate about the sport, about Formula 1, so they idea came around to bring it to Baku and we’ve managed to do it after a long period of negotiations and conversations with Formula 1 and Mr Ecclestone [and] bringing it back to Azerbaijan to convince the government it’s going to make sense and bring a lot of attraction to the country.
Not really backing, [but] the government supports us fully in what we do. It involves all the essential parts of the city so you need to have the support of the government to turn it around. They do support us.
Q: Why did you choose to do a street track, not a permanent track?
AR: It was to showcase the city and the most beautiful parts of the city and to attract people to the city rather than attract people to the track.
At the moment we are not looking into having any other events but it may be sometime in the future that we’re flexible to any other opportunities. For the time being it is Formula 1 and GP2.
Q: Is there much building to be done or are you using existing infrastructure?
AR: We’re using quite a lot of the existing infrastructure from the European Games as a legacy, we have a lot of tents, a lot of electronics that we can really help us to save cost. But we do have to procure some specific infrastructure that’s necessary particularly for the race. It’s a combination.
There is never usually enough time but we have a plan and we’re going ahead of the plan, which might be optimistic, but from what we’ve seen so far it really does look very realistic that maybe we will finish ahead.