F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone sees no problem with Baku debuting as the latest addition to the 2016 calendar. The inaugural Azerbaijan Grand Prix will follow two seasons after Russia's first F1 race of modern times.
Despite concerns over the country's human rights record, the Azerbaijan Grand Prix will be included on the calendar next season, confirmed Bernie Ecclestone at another cotentious F1 venue, Bahrain, this weekend.
Financial reasons forced the German Grand Prix to come to an end, whilst there is speculation that the Italian Grand Prix is in danger for next season. With the costs of hosting a race rising for circuits, especially private race operators in Europe, a number of races are now being staged in Asia and the Middle East, generally with state support.
In 2016, Baku's city streets will play host to the Formula One circus, becoming the latest addition to the calendar after the first Russian Grand Prix last year. Mexico returns to the F1 calendar later this season.
"Baku? No problem. That's going to be another good race," Ecclestone said in Bahrain and when asked by reporters whether they would "check out the human rights record in Baku," Ecclestone replied: "We have. I think everybody seems to be happy. Doesn't seem to be any big problem there."
Under the political tutelage of President Ilham Aliyev, the country's human rights record has deteriorated according to a recent report from the Human Rights Watch. More than 30 people, mainly journalists and political protestors, are in detention for demanding political reforms.
Azerbaijan has looked to extend its sports business portfolio in recent years, which includes a shirt sponsorship deal with last season's Spanish champions Atletico Madrid and a lucrative contract with Europe's governing body, UEFA.
In July, the country will host the 2015 European Games and has failed in its attempts to bring the Olympic Games to Baku for 2016 and 2020.
On Thursday, in response to a complaint lodged with the UK government last year over the F1 race in Bahrain, F1 announced a new drive to conduct "due diligence" on human rights affairs. In return, a Bahrain rights monitor agreed to stop pursuing charges against the series with the government in London.
rd/msh (AFP, Reuters)