Baku City Circuit, 2019

Paddock Diary: Azerbaijan Grand Prix day one

2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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@DieterRencken begins day one of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix by debunking a false rumour from the previous race and examining an eye-raising £100 million loss at McLaren.

Baku, Thursday 700am

I eventually arrive at my Baku hotel after a three-hour wait for check-in luggage which never appears. I’m not alone: F1 folk from Amsterdam, Nice, Paris and other world cities also stood at the emptying belt in despair, wondering whether there could miraculously be another container still to come, before it became clear we’re out of luck

I’m told 65 items are missing and presumed lost, and that a short connection between incoming flights in Moscow and our out-bound Aeroflot flight to Baku is the cause. Clearly an hour suffices when there are only a handful of passengers needing to switch flights to Azerbaijan’s capital city, but not when whole planes of connecting folk, all with crucial luggage, are disgorged. Still, that’s no excuse: the loading factors can’t have taken them by surprise.

So starts day one of a race weekend about as frustrating as any I’ve experienced. The absent luggage is one thing, but the zero-care attitude displayed by Aeroflot staff makes matters worse. This has happened to me before, but on previous occasions I’ve been kept informed all along the way and been reunited with my bags within a day or so.

This time, though, in the over 30 hours that elapsed since my bag went missing, not a single word about its fate, nor any form of assistance offered, only bland responses to questions on social media. Aeroflot? Zeroflot…


Baku City Circuit, 2019Up after a couple of hours of shut-eye, taxi to media centre situated in the Hilton Hotel overlooking the circuit. Due to traffic and road closures brought about by the street circuit, my five-kilometre journey takes about an hour.

Last year, coincidentally my 300th grand prix, I’d been fortunate in securing an Airbnb apartment overlooking the circuit and within walking distance of the paddock, but when I enquired for this year it was unavailable, so I booked a room in a hotel on the border between Baku’s old and new towns.

Due to the time zone difference – three hours ahead of GMT – media schedules in Baku are shifted out by an hour or two, and thus I don’t miss any sessions despite my late-ish start and ongoing distractions of the luggage situation. When attempting to track the bag I notice the attendant at the lost luggage desk had not provided a reference number…

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Robert Kubica, Williams, Baku City Circuit, 2019I grab brunch in the media catering area – cheese croissants and a beef wrap provided by the Hilton – before hitting the interview trail and a general catch-up across the paddock. Although we’d last decamped in China a fortnight ago, so disjointed was that event and so vast its convoluted its paddock, that it seems like ages since I last caught up with key folk.

One of the stories I’d picked up was that a number of the Ayrton Senna helmets on display in the Shanghai paddock as part of the 1000th race celebration (that wasn’t) had been nicked, but I’m happy to debunk that rumour after checking with a Chinese colleague who consulted circuit security: apparently the displays were rotated each day, causing some to assume the helmets had disappeared.


A talk one-on-one interview with Arif Rahimov, the youthful promoter of the race who was appointed after his company was awarded the construction contract for the venue. Arif is always good value: we’d originally met in 2014 shortly after the project was announced, and he’s always played open cards with me. We’ll publish the interview shortly, but one thing is sure: Baku is on the F1 calendar for the foreseeable future.


Last of the interviews before I busy myself with suitcase matters, then switch focus to news of McLaren’s financial results. A £100 million hole is shocking but, ultimately, in line with what I’d predicted given the swing of switch from free Honda power and commercial support to paying for Renault engines, coupled with reduced FOM’s revenues. Still, McLaren’s Middle Eastern shareholders have deep pockets…

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Head for the Buddha Bar in the Marriott hotel at the far end of the paddock for Baku’s traditional welcome party. A sumptuous tenderloin steak, accompanied by veggie spring rolls and salad, is followed by fruit salad and pastries. But my lack of shut-eye means I soon make my weary way back to the hotel.


Back at the hotel. The complexities of registering for sim cards in Azerbaijan plus cost of telecommunications in a country outside the EU has chronically frustrated my attempts at following up on my baggage, but a friend in Moscow who chased the saga on my behalf leaves a WhatsApp message: the missing bags should be on the 4am flight from Moscow…

8am Friday

Approximately 18 of the 65 missing bags did arrive in Baku on the 4am flight, but mine is not amongst them, and still not a word from Zeroflot.

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2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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Author information

Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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11 comments on “Paddock Diary: Azerbaijan Grand Prix day one”

  1. Baku is on the F1 calendar for the foreseeable future

    There was a time when the circuit was derided and hated by all…back in 2016, was voted as the 10th worst race (on this site). It has become a fan favorite now !!
    Nice turnaround; thanks mainly to regulation changes in 2017 i guess (???)

    On a side note, the curious case of Dieter’s missing luggage…
    I cant wait for part 2 !!!

  2. Four hours actually. Baku is four hours ahead of GMT or UTC although it should be three as Baku should be operating in UTC+3 rather than +4 as +3 is the ‘natural’ time zone for the longitudes of Baku.

  3. Thanks for the report, Deiter! And the air travel tip – avoid Zeroflot.

    Maybe this is how Baku makes a little extra – many tourists have to buy a new wardrobe on arrival. ;-)

    1. So that’s how GPs stimulate the local economy…

      1. BlackJackFan
        26th April 2019, 9:52

        Love all the cynicism… I’ve been deliberately avoiding ZERO-flot for over thirty years. Their reputation has always been bad. But probably the cheapest way into Baku…

        1. Price is not the overriding criterion, and, no, it wasn’t the cheapest flight – but certainly the most convenient in terms of flight duration, stopovers and arrival/departure times (I thought). The issue is that there are few direct flights to Baku from Europe, so whoever you fly with you have a stopover, in some instances of up to 18 hours.

  4. Thanks Dieter.
    Hope you get your bag back. I’m sure an experienced and constant traveller such as yourself has learned long ago not to put anything too valuable or important in the hold luggage but it is still a bad feeling to lose stuff like this :(

    Sounds like you might be better off walking the 5k to the track if the traffic is that bad. Or is it an unpleasant/risky walk?

    1. Sounds like you might be better off walking the 5k to the track if the traffic is that bad. Or is it an unpleasant/risky walk?

      No, not dangerous at all – simply that after having slept less than two hours and dressed in the clothes I’d had donned the day before meant I had little appetite for walking the 5kms through a bustling city

      1. Ahhh – fair enough. I didn’t think the place had a bad reputation like Mexico but I wasn’t certain ;)

  5. Adub Smallblock
    26th April 2019, 14:44

    Dieter: Don’t be surprised about Aeroflot! I once had a flight booked from Beijing to Moscow, change of planes, to Samara. My flight from Beijing was cancelled (not enough people on the flight for them!) and I was put on a later flight. Arriving in Moscow, I learned that Aeroflot also cancelled my connecting flight (which I had plenty of time to make) and they had not booked me on another flight. Asking an Aeroflot employee how I could book another flight, I was told to go to the Aeroflot office. Asking where that was, all I got was a general wave of the hand toward the other end of the terminal. 30 minutes I found it, looked like a closet door with a SMALL Aeroflot sign! Got my new flight, but thought to check about my return flights – “Oh, we cancelled those also”! OK, let me book a new flight – “No you have to wait until you are at that airport to book the flight! Arghhhh!

  6. An hour in a taxi to travel 5km? Why didn’t you just walk?

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