Race Blog
2016 Europe

New frontiers

“Years ago people told me go west. No, I said, east is best…”

Just one of the pearls from my 10-minute Thursday afternoon chat with F1's most important little-BIG man, and who am I to disagree?!

Formula 1 holds a unique position in the pantheon of sport. Need your country, state or city to burst onto the global stage? Then call Mr Ecclestone and get yerself a grand prix!

Singapore, Shanghai, Sochi, Bahrain, and Abu Dhabi, to a lesser or greater level of success, have all done just that.

Sunday afternoon/evening television screens lit up brightly with a veritable cornucopia of impressive buildings, sparkling seas, twinkling skyscrapers, desert oases and Olympic stadia. In a world of instant gratification and reputation-is-everything fickleness, the paymasters of these cities and countries surely exhibit a sagacious mindset that serves everyone concerned well.

Azerbaijan’s leaders, in need of some positive international impressions, are the latest regime to ‘use’ F1’s global reach to show just what a modern, glittering and entirely welcoming country theirs surely is.

Following a visually stunning weekend of Baku bonhomie they must be over the moon…

The track is a city-centre tour de force. A fast, wide open, flat-out promenade adjacent to the seaside feeding into tight, twisty turns past neoclassical apartment blocks, a side-by-side straight ‘motorway’ section, right into a narrowing road, then up left past, of all things, 12th-century castle-like walls and turrets. Proper fast uphill blind-left sweepers, unforgiving barriers at track’s edge, before plunging down hill. Left, and leaving the old city behind, it's back onto the 220+mph shoreline drive.

What’s not to like about that lot? Baku City Circuit lacks only a humpback bridge and a skid chicane and it’d be every Scalextric fan’s dream!

F1 circuit design guru Hermann Tilke has excelled himself.

Of course it’s a shame the race didn't deliver quite the drama we all anticipated, especially after Sunday morning’s utterly ridiculous ‘display’ provided by the wretched crash-fest fools competing in this year’s GP2 championship.

Rather than choosing a – far too common – negative Formula 1 mindset, we should be positive and surely praise the driving ability of those competing cleanly and fairly while displaying surgical precision around the Baku circuit’s treacherous city streets.

“You could have a busy afternoon ahead,” I opined to Safety Car driver Bernd Maylander as I left the grid.

“We’re ready!” came the German's cheeky reply.

Relax, Bernd! Good pre-race gambling odds could’ve been had on his Mercedes-AMG GT S car posting a no-show.

For the photographers present, a new circuit is always a challenge to learn. Those of us with a competitive streak, hell bent on maximising the creative opportunities on offer, spent much of Thursday walking the track. Noting shooting positions, light fall and the all-important rapid routes between the shot locations. For the large agency guys it’s a stroll. Position one – or more – of their photographer hordes at each turn and all angles are covered by FP2’s chequered flag fall!

For every snapper working the streets, ‘security’ staff ignorance and flown-in-for-Baku, high-on-their-own-assumed-level-of-expertise Bahraini marshal arrogance presented problems to be dealt with in a calm but ultimately trying fashion...

Light that artists dream of bathing the busy grid in a warm yellow-to-orange glow, stunning grid girls, ancient castle-like turrets throwing finger-like shadows across the jet black Tarmac, highlights twinkling off the F1 cars’ bling bodywork. Mine was a busy, tiring, but hugely rewarding early evening shoot last Sunday on the shores of the Caspian Sea.

Most of us had no idea what a jewel Baku is. I and countless millions around the world know now!


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