Formula 1

Azerbaijan Grand Prix could modernise traditional F1 approach

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A second new F1 race has been announced in as many days as Azerbaijan becomes the new host of the European Grand Prix.

Speculation about a race on the streets of the Eurasian nation's capital, Baku, had been running for several months and on Friday the news was confirmed by Azerbaijan's sports minister Azad Rahimov.

“I am delighted to officially announce that we have signed a contract to bring Formula 1 racing to Baku in 2016,” he said.

“Our location at the crossroads of eastern Europe and western Asia is a new frontier for Formula 1 racing. Azerbaijan is a modern European country that has established a reputation as a centre of sporting excellence.

“The deal to bring Formula 1 racing to Baku is a very significant new chapter in our ongoing success to attract the world’s largest sporting events to our country.”

F1's new frontier

While there was no talk over the length of the deal, Azerbaijan will join the calendar in 2016 and has been given the title of the European Grand Prix.

This has been met by some questions by those in Western Europe because while the country of Azerbaijan is part of the annual Eurovision song contest and is also part of football's European governing body UEFA, this takes the sport to a part of the world it has never been to before.

Related articles:

- Mexico confirms F1 return in 2015

The last venue to hold the title of the European Grand Prix was another street race in Valencia, a race that was never popular with fans and was held for the final time in 2012.

Initial reaction to the news of Azerbaijan taking over the hosting duties has been met with similar pessimism as fans look at more developed F1 markets without a race losing out to countries that may have little history but offer more money to put on a race.

Based on its location it would appear the race would take place around the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi, which hosts it's inaugural race in November, however, no word has yet been made on whether this will be the case.

Compact calendar

The announcement of the race in Baku comes a day after Mexico also confirmed it will return to the calendar in 2015.

As I said during that article (which you can visit in the link above) these new races come at a time when there is too much demand to meet supply in relation to the F1 calendar.

With a current agreed limit of 20 races per season, Mexico's arrival would take this year's schedule up to that mark.

But with organisers in France, New Jersey and other nations trying to return or join the calendar staying to that limit could be easier said than done.

There is speculation over the future of the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, while the Australian and Malaysian races are also considering whether to renew their current deals. 

F1's big test

Whatever happens the sport faces major hurdles in making a success of the Azerbaijan race.

The country has no history when it comes to Formula 1, however, it is looking to increase its role in motor sport and over the past few years a GT sports car race, known as the Baku World Challenge, has taken place on the streets of the capital.

While changes to the circuit used for that event will likely occur before F1 can visit it does mark a key test of Formula 1's ability to attract fans in an untapped market.

Much of the last 15 years has seen F1 visit new places all over the world, notably in Asia, and most have failed to captivate potential fans.

Races in Korea and India have had to be dropped after just a few years and China, now part of the calendar for 10 years, has also failed to meet with expectation.

New approach needed

More recently there has been scrutiny on F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone's reluctance to modernise the sport and adapt social media to try and attract fans. Then there has been rule changes introduced and proposed to try and improve the 'show', which most believe actually do more harm than good.

For a young upcoming market like Azerbaijan, bosses need to look very seriously at how it approaches selling F1 to the population.

In Asia the building of a big facility for sometimes hundreds of millions of dollars and then using traditional advertising methods to try and attract people to buying usually very expensive tickets has not worked.

Some races like Singapore, which put on far more than just an F1 race during the weekend, have succeeded as has the recent return to America, it is these races Azerbaijan organisers need to learn from if they are to win a sceptical traditional audience and a new local audience over and make F1 a hit.

Most are not even willing to give this race a chance, I on the other hand think this could be the best thing for F1 in quite some time. Baku will be fresh, will be different and hopefully a modern, vibrant nation can help create a modern, vibrant F1 for the future.

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