Executive Director of Baku City Circuit, Mr Arif Rahimov sits down with the Paddock magazine to give us a taster of what this Grand Prix in Azerbaijan’s capital really means to the Formula 1 calendar.
Last time we’ve talked you told us that one of the main goals for your team was to educate locals to become sincere fans of racing.
Absolutely. This remains one of our most important aims today. Since we last spoke, so much has happened in terms of educating our domestic audience about Formula 1 and motivating them. We have recruited and trained nearly 5,000 volunteers and 1,000 marshals from across the country to work at this year’s race and in doing so have helped develop an in-built love amongst these young people for the sport as well as an appreciation of its sheer size and importance that they will hopefully carry with them for years to come.
In addition, we have held a series of events to further enthuse and educate the local population about Formula 1 including our major “6 and 3 Months To Go” celebrations on the Baku Boulevard in December and March respectively as well as the high profile visit of Fernando Alonso in his capacity as Official Ambassador of the 2016 Formula 1 Grand Prix of Europe.
Over recent weeks another of our Official Ambassadors, a popular Formula 1 commentator Rahim Aliyev of Idman TV, has held a series of presentations in Baku universities. The feedback here was great with students very keen to learn about the inaugural Formula 1 race in our country. We have also taken some of our key media to Grand Prix race weekends – Abu Dhabi & Bahrain – to show them just how incredible a Formula 1 show can be and help them deliver this message to our domestic audience better.
Furthermore, we have held regular workshops and media events utilizing our VIP celebrity ambassadors to help educate students, media and the general population.
We are aware that Baku will not turn into a motorsport capital overnight, but we work to create a new, active and educated generation of Formula 1 fans here in Azerbaijan.
In your opinion, should Formula 1 have more European countries on the calendar?
I think it is more important that the European races on the calendar right now are here to stay – and I obviously include Baku in that list! Europe has traditionally been the core geographical centre of the sport but as we have seen with the recent successes of Abu Dhabi and Singapore, as well as the growing popularity of the US race, there is no limit on where the sport can grow and find new homes.
— Baku City Circuit (@BakuCityCircuit) June 15, 2016
What’s the current situation of young racing talent from your country?
As the promoter of the inaugural Formula 1 race in Azerbaijan, it is of course a dream of mine to one day see an Azerbaijani team and/or driver competing in the sport. At this moment in time, Baku City Circuit is actively supporting one of our country’s great young prospects, 19-year-old driver Gulhuseyn Abdullayev, to achieve his dream of one day racing in the world’s most prestigious motorsport championship. He is presently a part of the Campos Racing Team and has already successfully raced in various motorsport series. Currently he is competing in the European F3 Open.
We are aware that Baku will not turn into a motorsport capital overnight but ideally, we want to create a new, active and educated generation of Formula 1 fans here in Azerbaijan.
Talking about Formula 1 itself, there are still talks about whether should it keep its exclusivity or be more open to the fans through social media and so on. What’s your take on this?
I think it is important for Formula 1 to hit the right balance in terms of maintaining the level of exclusivity for which it has always been renowned – and which, if we are all being honest, forms a large part of its appeal – and adapting to the times we live in where the rise of social media has made the demand for greater engagement with fans not only inevitable but essential to ensuring a sport’s relevance in this day and age.
So, I guess my answer falls somewhere in the middle – yes, I believe Formula 1 should continue to explore the ways offered by new media platforms to open up and connect with its passionate global fanbase but also not completely remove the air of glamour and high-end exclusivity that has for decades now been the byword for this wonderful sport. Let’s not forget that mystery and a sense of aspiration can also be strong marketing tools for a brand.
In terms of business, how could the relationship between local organisers and Formula 1 be improved?
I’m probably not in the right place to be telling Formula 1 how to improve their relationship with promoters, especially considering how much assistance and support we have had from Bernie Ecclestone, FOM, FIA and the teams since we first signed on the dotted line to host this race. However, there are always areas where things could be improved and I know all stakeholders are continuously looking at ways to do so. So are we.
We are all fans of Formula 1 and have the best interests of the sport at heart. As long as Formula 1 stakeholders and promoters don’t lose sight of this, then I am confident we can all work towards achieving our main aims, creating a win-win scenario where everybody – promoters, teams, drivers, stakeholders and most importantly fans – will benefit.
Click on the image below to see the Baku circuit map: