F1’s unwanted race? Six Azerbaijan Grand Prix talking points

2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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Bakue’s race has been re-dubbed the Azerbaijan Grand Prix but do F1’s new owners think the sport would be better off without it? Here are six talking points for this weekend’s race.

Are Mercedes back to their best?

After the disappointment of Monaco, where neither car finished on the podium, Mercedes hit back in the best way possible at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Following an intensive investigation the team appeared to get to the bottom of their recent set-up problems and they romped to a one-two victory.

They were somewhat flattered by circumstances, however. If Sebastian Vettel hadn’t been compromised from the start the team would have had a tougher fight on their hands.

In Baku they won’t have to worry about the ultra-soft ‘bogey’ tyre. Hamilton seemed to click with this circuit 12 months ago until he came a cropped in qualifying, but he should go into the weekend as the favourite.

Another tough weekend for Red Bull?

An energy store failure ended Verstappen’s race in Canada
Baku’s long straights and short corners were tailor-made to expose the shortcomings of the Red Bull RB12 last year and the team struggled to one of their weakest results.

They’ve sought to minimise drag with their 2017 design which could make them more competitive this time around. But reliability could be a bigger question mark.

Seven races in and the team have already had four retirements due to technical problems. Max Verstappen was dejected after his latest breakdown in Canada having forced his way through to second at the start. Red Bull have neither the speed nor the reliability to compete at the front right now.

Is this an unwanted race?

This is the race Liberty Media president Greg Maffei used as an example of what was wrong with F1’s old business model after taking over the business earlier this year.

“Bernie’s attitude was, ‘How much can I extract from them?’,” said Maffei in March. “I heard him call them the victims – ‘How much can I extract, how much up front?'”

“So we end up with races in places like Baku in Azerbaijan, where they paid us a big race fee, but it does nothing to build the long-term brand and health of the business.”

Liberty’s F1 chief Chase Carey later smoothed over the quotes with Baku race promoter Arif Rahimov. But many would agree with Maffei’s diagnosis of where F1 went wrong before. F1’s new owners have talked about taking the sport into new markets which enhance its brand and create excitement around the race. Baku, which put just 26,000 tickets up for sale last year, is unlikely to fit that bill.

Trouble at the castle?

Watch the walls: Baku will feel narrower
The narrow climb past the castle and Qosha gate was expected to be a trouble-spot last year. It wasn’t for the F1 drivers, but there’s one obvious difference this year: the cars are now wider.

That will be a problem at this section of the track and also the high-speed approach to the pit lane, where the circuit narrows from 18 metres wide to just 10m.

Can Stroll build on his breakthrough?

Williams’ much-criticised rookie driver Lance Stroll achieved a breakthrough with his first points finish at home in Canada.

Can he build on that this weekend? He’s got another tricky circuit to learn and a large performance deficit to his team mate to bridge. But this one of Williams’ stronger tracks last year.

Will we get a race to remember?

Last year a pair of eventful GP2 (now Formula Two) races raised expectations of a lively Formula One race. But the grand prix was a turgid affair: F1 Fanatic readers gave it the lowest score of the year in Rate the Race.

Will that change this time? Part of the problem last year was that Mercedes enjoyed a particularly large advantage over their rivals and Lewis Hamilton’s error in qualifying ended any contest for victory. That may be different this time.

However Pirelli has erred slightly on the conservative side with its tyre selection, preferring not to bring the ultra-soft tyres for this race. That could mean another race of very low degradation.

It’s important not to make too many assumptions based on last year’s race, however. This is still an unusual and somewhat unknown venue which could produce surprises.

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    Keith Collantine
    Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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    69 comments on “F1’s unwanted race? Six Azerbaijan Grand Prix talking points”

    1. petebaldwin (@)
      21st June 2017, 11:42

      As I said on the other thread, this GP won’t be around in a couple of years once the Azerbaijan government have go the required exposure from it. They had year 1 calling it the European GP to make the city sound more appealing tourists and now they will spend a year or two calling it the Azerbaijan GP to hammer the name into people’s memories and then they’ll pull out.

      1. Just as with the Baku Trump hotel. Which now sits empty and incomplete, having apparently fulfilled its mission of bringing foreign capital and attention to the country, and serving as a vehicle for the Mammadov family and Trump to scam investors and/or launder money. That regime is crooked as a dog’s hind leg.

    2. This race does signify all that was wrong with the ecclestone era. And it’s dull.

      However even silverstone is not making it easy to visit for fans.

      I bought tickets for Friday and Saturday and want to add grandstand tickets. No-one on the sales team knows how to do this, but they still keep sending me emails to upgrade to hospitality for £1000s.

      F1 has a long way to row back if it is going to appeal to all.

      1. It is only one race in Baku so far. Give it a chance will you.

    3. Gavin Campbell
      21st June 2017, 11:51

      It is a odd place for a race and a morally dubious one but at least its unique looking and has an interesting enough layout. Bare in mind 1/2 the classic european tracks are in a field in the middle of nowhere, this one has a castle! (Note: See korea for where not to put a race).

      The GP2 races last year were cracking affairs but the main event was spectaculary dull, it’s hard to critizise Baku for that. If the junior formula have a proper ding dong on it – surely the big boys can deliver something better this time around. I think they got spooked last year after the chaos of those races and everyone played it safe assuming people would crash and it would become safety car central.

      I’m hoping we get something approaching the support races that happened last year and maybe peoples attitudes will soften. My main concern is that old town area, its freshly paved every year (its cobbles normally) historically F1 has had a poor first run out at new circuits – probably due to the tarmac so that could be the fly in the ointment.

      Chin up

      1. All venues for F1 is morally dubious. But people living in US and European countries sit on a high horse for some reason and act like their governments are not morally dubious as well despite the fact that we all know that’s the case with any government really. Not that it’s at all OK.

        1. All countries are morally dubious without exception.

          1. Gavin Campbell
            21st June 2017, 19:11

            Generally speaking we have the rule of law, elected leaders and human rights. We also have free press to complain about things when they go wrong.

            I’m not saying that anywhere is perfect or without raising a few eyebrows but azjerbaijan has a lot more than most. A LOT more

            1. Yes (@come-on-kubica)
              21st June 2017, 21:46

              Probably not the best time to say UK is better than those countries.

              We have an unelected Prime Minister, unelected Head of State, tragedies happening all over the place due to government neglect and huge rise in homelessness. And the press decide which news they want to push ie Jeremy Corbyn is an inept leader.

            2. Neil (@neilosjames)
              21st June 2017, 23:51


              Yeah, it’s awful. We also have people moaning that one of the most developed, progressive, pleasant, tolerant, generous, non-corrupt countries in the world is on a par with places like Azerbaijan…

              I inhabit such a horrible dump.

            3. Are you Swedish Neil? Because all the points raised about the morally repugnant country that the UK has become ring true…..

            4. Yes (@come-on-kubica)
              22nd June 2017, 22:11


              Such a typical bigoted view of the world. I’m happy for you dispute everything I said but if you’re just going to regurgitate what you’ve ‘heard’ about it and you’re protected view of the world, I’ll rather pass .

              I bet you don’t even know why you ‘dislike’ Azerbaijan or why they are ‘corrupt’?

            5. Neil (@neilosjames)
              23rd June 2017, 0:02


              I dislike the government or ‘rulers’ of any country with a dodgy press freedom and human rights records (common knowledge that Azerbaijan nails those two), especially those who syphon off massive wealth into their own pockets (Panama papers helped out there, but it was common knowledge anyway). Given your apparent political views, I’d have thought you’d share my negative opinion of Aliyev’s government. Or would that be ‘bigoted’?

              David – not Swedish, just a Brit with sufficient knowledge of the wider world to know that while my own country has its problems, I can’t moan too loudly (despite having that right, unlike many, for example government critics and the indepedent press in Azerbaijan) because it’s still near the top of the ‘decent, free country’ list.

            6. Yes (@come-on-kubica)
              23rd June 2017, 0:41

              @neilosjames But ‘the dodgy press freedom’ happens in this country with some rich autocrat forcing the news in a direction that is beneficial for his own mean ie ‘Jeremy Corbyn is raving loony’ or ‘Tim Farron despises gays’ etc Even the Grenfell fire stuff happening recently has been to push an agenda. Even with Human Rights, the amount of people in poverty/homelessness in this country who struggle to live let alone have the opportunity to even think about an f1 gp is growing and appalling. So does that mean you dislike this country as well.

              I just despise this holier than thou approach to other countries because if you went through every country on the f1 calender you would find a reason to dispute their records. Dislike the circuit all you want but when you claim this country is better than that it’s a very narrow minded view and ambigious when you consider what makes a country ‘better’.

              As an aside, I find Aliyev an appalling person. But he has had the americans are supporting them financially wouldn’t be surprised if Britain was involved as well. This is just like how Britain and USA have kept a number of suspect leaders in power who have recently been overthrown. He’s made himself rich through corruption but is it that much different to Blair profiteering from an absolutely pointless war.

              On top of that people are happy that Turkey is coming back because it’s a good track, when Erdogan is one of the most morally suspect world leaders.

              Sorry you’ve caught me on a heated day.

            7. Neil (@neilosjames)
              23rd June 2017, 13:00

              @come-on-kubica I wouldn’t call that a press freedom issue, rather an issue caused by having a relatively free press – press bias, which is universal. No country with a free press escapes papers and broadcasters taking editorial lines to push their own agendas – as you say, there’s the right-leaning press doing the anti-Corbyn, while the left-leaning papers/broadcasters attack the Conservatives.

              But yes, I do dislike many policies pursued by the British government (and those past). It’s essentially been government (and party, from all relevant sides) policy for as long as I’ve been alive to focus on ‘the middle’ and ignore the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable. The Conservatives tend to be worse, but in my lifetime Labour have been no better. Britain has issues, for example those you highlighted (poverty, homelessness) and also some corruption in both private and public businesses. And yep, it’s ‘us’ (most of the EU, in this case) propping up people like Aliyev because he we need his oil and gas.

              However, I stand by what you called my ‘holier than thou’ view, though I’d label it ‘less rubbish than thou’ (but not all of thou). It’s lazy to call it ‘narrow minded’, simply because I’m talking about a different country. There’s no prejudice or bigotry in my words, or in my views – they’re based on very solid information gathered by groups like Reporters without Borders, Transparency International and Amnesty. I feel I’ve taken a sensible and rational route to reaching the view that the way Britain (or Ireland, Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, for example) is run is ‘better’ than the way Azerbaijan is run. I can’t possibly consider Britain’s issues to be as bad as stuff like no press freedom, arbitrary detention of political critics, and laws that – were I an Azeri – could get me sent to prison for writing ‘Aliyev is a corrupt, greedy, autocratic liar’ on Twitter.

              To remove ambiguity – I like press freedom, I like respect for human rights, I like lower corruption. Fairness and freedom, basically. If having a more positive view of a country that is closer to my ideals (still falling short, but closer) on those things makes me a bigot, then fine… I’m a bigot.

              As a side note… I never thought I’d end up arguing about politics with a fellow (I assume) left-leaner on the comments section of an F1 website!

            8. Neil (@neilosjames)
              23rd June 2017, 13:31

              @come-on-kubica my apologies also, hadn’t realised I’d written a textwall… shall we just agree to disagree? :D

      2. It’s best to keep politics out of sport. I like F1 in Baku, despite the boring race last year.

        Remember when we had an Olympics in Moscow, during the Soviet Union tyranny? It was good. We still play rugby with Fiji, despite the military government.

        We must always remember that – whatever our issues with the government – our relationships as fellow citizens of the world are more important.

    4. Great backdrop to the circuit though, I give it points for at least looking like a street circuit. It’ll be a better race this year I reckon.

      1. “Great backdrop to the circuit though”
        Don’t they bring in Hollywood to hang pretty backdrops on the corners?

        1. Don’t know about that. I’m thinking of the parts around the Old City. To me, it’s more visually arresting than Singapore’s night race. Just one person’s opinion though. :)

    5. Andre Furtado
      21st June 2017, 11:56

      I wouldn’t call what stroll got a breakthrough, there was so many retirements on that race that even a monkey driving the Williams would have gotten at least a point. He is a horrible driver.

      1. Agreed. He needs to prove that Canada was not simply a combination of it being his home race and dumb luck.

        1. The way he was driving he has already proved it was dumb luck. He was off pace the entire weekend and not even Palmer is that insecure and sloppy during the overtaking and “trying to overtake” manoeuvres.

    6. Everyone seems to beat up Baku, presumably because it’s a tight track in a country that’s not well known.

      I’ve been there and it’s a lovely place. It’s warm, coastal and is a really weird mix of West and East (with the odd Soviet reference here and there). It also feels immensely rich with plenty of history and old architecture to support itself – far superior to the utterly devoid character of Abu Dhabi and most of the rest of the UAE.

      There’s little doubt they’re paying for the race to simply boost their tourism but then that’s exactly what Adelaide, Turkey, Abu Dhabi, Mexico, India, America (Caesars Palace Car Park, Phoenix, Detroit and the rest), Barcelona, Hungary, Singapore, Austria, Malaysia and Valencia have all done with varying success. They know their oil won’t last forever and they’re giving F1 a go to get some world-wide exposure so the least the F1 circus can do is give the place a bloomin chance.

      The race probably won’t be spectacular because of the nature of the track but try to think of it as another Monaco without all the vacuous celebrities prancing around for their own exposure.

      1. I think this is a very fair comment. As I have said elsewhere, we need to see how the 2018 cars perform here before we write it off as a dull circuit.

      2. A correction…. The Indian government never paid for or facilitated the Grand Prix…. Infact our customs and excise regulations made it even more difficult

    7. RossoToro (@)
      21st June 2017, 12:28

      Are Mercedes back to their best?
      This track will suit all Mercedes powered cars, FI/half of Williams > Red Bull

      Another tough weekend for Red Bull?
      That long straight isn’t going to do them any good, Ricciardo will probably sneak in to 3rd again.

      Is this an unwanted race?Is this an unwanted race?
      Apart from a few shunts last year and the helplessness of Hamilton it was a forgettable weekend.

      Trouble at the castle?
      Vandoorne, Ocon and Stroll might be worth keeping an eye on.

      Can Stroll build on his breakthrough?
      When did this happen?

      Will we get a race to remember?
      Ask me on monday.

      1. ” half of williams” hahahaha

      2. And of course
        -Ricciardo won
        -the “wrong” half of WIlliams made it to the podium
        -Stroll got to the podium, Ocon did well, his shenanigans being with his teammate instead of the wall, Vandoorne scored the best result of his season up to that race

    8. Hilarious the photo with the marshals pulling VES’ car back (the video was Oscar material).
      We can have a whole section on that as there was a similar episode in Monaco or Spain and the broken car in the pit lane at LM24 ;)

      But it can become dangerous easily – check this one out from 2011 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6URo_2XMKHE

      1. Sundar Srinivas Harish
        21st June 2017, 16:08

        I don’t know why I was laughing at at video. I’m messed up.

    9. Oh my, I forgot those “Well Done Baku” signs. Talk about self-esteem problems.

      1. @hunocsi, seems many fan prefer their Baku rare.

    10. I’m hoping for a good race this weekend, both for the sport and the circuit’s sake. People have been too quick to judge it from one sub-par race and we need to give it more time imo.

    11. In my opinion the problem with tracks like this isn’t just tracks like this but the fact that it’s at the expense of other, beloved, locations. F1 is only here because of the same decisions that threatened Monza. MONZA!!!

      I like golf. Imagine the powers that be deciding to remove St. Andrews from the Open rotation in favor of an obviously inferior track in France and a pile of cash for the person who decided to make the move. That’s this race, and a few others, for me.

      So I’m prejudiced against these races because I’m deeply prejudiced against the people who have made them happen, their disregard for the fans, and the sport’s history.

    12. And what about Monisha?

      1. I guess that’s the 6th talking point :)

      2. She is gone to Honda.. rumored..

    13. Michael Brown (@)
      21st June 2017, 14:06

      Unwanted race? Well, it’s the least interesting race for me.

    14. “Unwanted race…”

      Incredible. F1 is entertainment. There should be more races, not high-minded commentary about which to eliminate.

      Better to solicit ideas on how to make the existing races more effective and entertaining for all.

      1. Fukobayashi (@)
        21st June 2017, 15:25

        The section relating to this backs it up with evidence of less than stellar attendance numbers so it’s not an unreasonable comment to make at all. And I would certainly rather somewhere like Turkey be back on the calendar which was a great track with some memorable races rather than the most boring race I have seen in 2 decades last year. You cannot have an infinite number of races as much as some people seem to think you can!

    15. F1 is a world championship and limiting it to particular countries will drastically devalue the brand, Europeans want to stay in Europe, Silverstone could not flog all of its tickets last year till it did a promo so I don’t get why people want more than a race in each country!
      Bernies model is good for F1 as it takes F1 to places its never been, its up to race promoters to ensure folks have a good time which European races are just catching up to, the gulf states have always done this!

    16. Evil Homer (@)
      21st June 2017, 14:49

      Azerbaijan must go. Sochi as well its terrible, and throw Abu Dhabi as well!! They all LOOK great on TV as they are colourful tracks and great building or yachts in the background with wealthy people ….. but the tracks are not where F1 should be racing.

      I know Monaco gets this as well, I went 1st time last year and it blows your mind- it may be the only absolute spectacular circuit that should get away with it – Its Monaco… others are not!

      More history tracks please Liberty and drop wealthy tracks with money BE business model (A great business model I admit if I were an investor rather than an F1 nut!!)

      1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
        21st June 2017, 19:48


        When you say you want these tracks to go, do you really want them to go and have noting to replace them which currently we don’t. They surely are better than not having them anything at all? I have actually enjoyed ever Russian Grand Prix as well as Baku last year.

      2. So, Monaco blew your mind when you WENT there, and that’s the reason it gets a pass??? Well, guess what, lots of people can’t afford to go anywhere else BUT Sochi and Baku (talking about the majority of Russian-speaking fans). I went to Baku last year myself and it blew my mind, simply because it was my first live race ever, and it was well organized with tons of off-track entertainment. The race itself was boring as hell, just like watching Monaco on TV most of the time. So, let’s be fair. I agree that boring races should go, and if THAT’S the merit, then Monaco should be definitely on that list.

          1. Evil Homer (@)
            30th June 2017, 7:31

            Hi Ben – no I certainly dont want them to go and have no replacment (my wording was probably a bit harsh really) but prefer better racing circuits rather than some of these mickey mouse tracks!!

            @zimkazimka – yes thats a fair point – my enjoyment was certainly much higher with the buzz of being there but thats not the reason it gets a free pass- I just think its one race they will always keep because of the glamour, thats all. May be right or wrong but they will keep Monaco on the calendar.

    17. Baku signed up for the GP when oil prices where high. If the current oil prices continue Baku’s withdrawal is more likely

    18. I actually kind of like this track, It’s tight, challenging & both the GP2 races last year show that the layout can provide good racing. It’s got character, It’s a bit unique in areas & unlike many other newer venues is something different. I’d like to see it stick around for a while longer.

      The problem with last year’s race was how much management was going on meaning they were all driving well below the limit. Through practice/qualifying when drivers were pushing harder we saw a lot of mistakes (Same in the GP2 races which were quite action packed), In the race with them all driving well off the limits we saw very few (If any) which hindered the racing.

    19. Baku belongs. It’s absolutely beautiful and stands out from all the old cookie cutter tracks.

    20. I’ve reserved judgement on Baku’s capability to produce exciting races. A lot of excitement in races stems from factors not related to the track layout. The only track where the layout itself is sufficient to generate opportunities for overtaking/battles is probably Spa. I remember thinking that Sochi was a horrible track (which I still think, to some extent) and was not at all impressed with the 2014 race. But the 2015 Russian Grand Prix was a much more enjoyable affair, thanks to alternate strategies and some aggressive driving all round the field.

      I’m hoping for a good race this year, since as many users have already pointed out, the track itself isn’t against overtaking/battles as proved by the GP2 races last year.

      1. Nice point bro

    21. people love to hate this circuit but to me it’s simply outstanding. both the setting and the track are very unique and very interesting. good straights, loads of 90 degree corners, some nice full throttle curves, that very particular castle-climb etc… come on people gotta give it a chance more than 1 year…

    22. This circuit is basically Phoenix Street Circuit from long ago with an extra part included so we don’t end up with only 90-degrees curves… No?
      Whether it’s a good thing or not is up to you — Phoenix did deliver some interesting races.

    23. Lance Stroll’s breakthrough was taking the fourth (maybe third) car at that circuit into ninth in a race with relatively many retirements (for this season). Breakthrough, yeah, like an F student getting a C-

      1. @hahostolze F to C- is definitely a breakthrough on a personal level, if you ask me. :p That’s what Keith means as well…major self-improvement.

        1. F to C- means you are in the wrong place and nothing else.

          1. @rethla That’s true only if you stagnate at C-… Give ‘Lance a Chance’, maybe that C- will become a B by the summer break. Surely, it’s far too early to pass an ultimatum on his potential to improve. If he improves by that much, he’ll not only justify Williams’ faith in him but the loss of points the team has suffered because of him in the first few races will also become acceptable to some extent. :)

            1. Yeh its almost as if he isnt ready for F1 yet… The only question is if he will ever be.

      1. Nope. That has to be Monaco, where overtaking is now impossible. Or Sochi, where it is very improbable.

    24. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
      21st June 2017, 19:43

      I don’t understand why so many dislike this track. It looks very different to the others and has some very unique looking buildings around it. It also has a very impressive tight and narrow part next to an old stone wall. I didn’t actually think the race was bad last year. People maybe expected more to happen based on the amount of spins and crashes the drivers had in practice and qualifying. The list was endless to how many drivers constantly missed the corners. Including Hamilton well over 5 times in just qualifying. All this going on maybe prepared the viewers for a more exciting race than it turned out to be. The drivers had learned from their mistakes and the race worked out clean, and rather uneventful. But I wouldn’t personally say it was actually dull. I couldn’t rate it lower than 6 out of 10. I’m really looking forward to it again this year. To me, the really really long straight is something that makes this track stand out. It also may end up helping out teams that have a lack of grip in the corners but still have really good straight line speed. We will see how the race turns out but it seems I’m one of the few who actually has a lot of positive things to say about it. I wouldn’t want to loose it. I don’t see why anyone would rather not have any race at all over having this one every year.

      1. I’d agree this track is a lot more interesting than Abu Dhabi, which is a true missed opportunity / white elephant

    25. Guess im the only one that enjoyed last year race, particlarly the first half and also the layout. I’m sure opinions might change wen Lewis wins there.

    26. I find it more than a little indicative of Bernie’s greed and the detriment that he was becoming to the sport that he was adding Azerbaijan and Sochi to the calendar while races like Monza, Silverstone, and the Nurburgring were either in danger of falling off, or actually did fall off the schedule. Other than the Azeri government and Bernie, who the hell wanted a race in Azerbaijan anyway? Dump this one, Sochi, and Abu Dhabi and bring back the Nurburgring, Watkins Glen, and Imola.

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