Azerbaijan braces for first-ever Formula 1 race

By bne IntelliNews June 17, 2016

Azerbaijan expects 10,000 to 15,000 tourists to attend the Formula 1 European Grand Prix, the first ever in the country's history, to be held between June 17 and June 19. The country's Sports Minister Azad Rahimov told APA news agency that the government raised AZN2mn (€1.17mn) from ticket sales to date.

Azerbaijan endeavoured to host the European Grand Prix several years ago, when oil and gas prices were higher. However, the country is currently in recession, raising concerns about the viability of hosting large-scale sporting events. Azerbaijan previously hosted the 2012 edition of the Eurovision song contest and the first edition of the European Games in 2015, which some observers say cost over €6bn to organise.

The cost of hosting the Grand Prix has been as high as €150mn according to some estimates; Rahimov says it cost €58mn. The person in charge of organising the event is Arif Rahimov, the sports minister's son, and the event's ambassador is Formula 1 star racer Fernando Alonso.

Azerbaijan does not have a tradition for car racing events, so authorities had to go to great lengths to adapt the streets of Baku for the race. Furthermore, the main roads in the Azerbaijani capital city have been closed for the general public since Monday, to commuters' chagrin.

Despite Baku's efforts, racers have complained about the quality of the track, BBC reported on June 16. Mercedes driver Nico Rosenberg reportedly said that parts of the track were “really not looking good”, while Jenson Button added that some corners “don't have any run-off at all”.

Another obstacle Baku faced in organising the event was the low availability of hotel rooms in the capital city, which forced organisers to limit the number of seats and to warn international visitors to book a hotel room before purchasing their tickets for the race.

Bernie Ecclestone, Formula 1 CEO, is in Baku and met with president Ilham Aliyev on June 16. 

Security was ramped up for the event.

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