REVVING UP

Azerbaijan 2016 | DIPLOMACY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Bernie Ecclestone, Chief Executive of the Formula One Group, on the myriad of benefits and opportunities the Formula One Grand Prix will bring to the streets of Baku.

Bernie Ecclestone
BIOGRAPHY
After first entering the sport as a driver, Bernie Ecclestone managed many different drivers before buying the Brabham racing team in the early 1970s. In 1974, he formed the Formula One Constructors Association (FOCA) and became the CEO of this entity in 1978, whereupon he brokered the first massive television rights deal for F1 racing. He also renegotiated these terms in 1997 in the Concorde Agreement. He currently serves as the Chief Executive of the Formula One Group.

How can Azerbaijan benefit from the forthcoming Formula One Grand Prix?

Massive worldwide coverage is the first thing that comes to mind. That is one benefit Azerbaijan will get for sure. I also hope that eventually a lot of people from all over the world will visit. It is surprising to see how word gets around. I personally did not know much about Azerbaijan until I went there myself. I did not quite understand the country before I went, but I was able to find out what it was like during my travels. This is what it means for the country and this is what we are hoping to be able to do: let people from around the world have a look at Azerbaijan.

How will the Grand Prix affect the economy of Azerbaijan?

It opens people's eyes and minds; eyes that would have never seen or minds that would have never thought about this country. Many large companies are involved in Formula 1. They travel with the circuit and they will be there in Baku. People could look and explore what is good for them.

How does bringing a race to Azerbaijan fit within your global strategy and how did Baku get the privilege of hosting the return of the European Grand Prix?

We are a world championship, so I see no reason not to bring it to Baku. This is a part of the world that I am interested in making sure that F1 is exposed to. When the discussions were initiated, I did not know whether Azerbaijan was considered European and I wondered how many other people would know that the country is part of Europe. I think a lot of people will be very surprised when they find out. That is why we are calling it the European Grand Prix, to pass the message across to everyone. Azerbaijan is part of Europe, isn't it? They would not have been able to call it the European Games in 2015 if it was not.

After successfully hosting the 2015 European Games, how would you assess the ability of Azerbaijan to host this event?

This is what Azerbaijan is trying to do; host big events in order to get the country known worldwide. This is the reason why the government wanted to host the European Games. With that said, F1 will give a lot more coverage to Azerbaijan than the European Games did. The global reach of F1 on television and across digital and social media is huge, cutting across languages, cultures, religions, and different age groups as well as demographics. All teams and drivers are also very good at marketing themselves, so it is true to say that all the stakeholders in the sport contribute strongly to the huge reach and engagement of F1. Thus, Azerbaijan will be the focus of attention for F1's worldwide audience and I am sure it will acquit itself brilliantly.

What are the challenges you foresee for this Grand Prix?

It will surely be very, very interesting, as it is going to be a street race in parts of the old city. I think everyone is going to be impressed in the same way I was impressed. Baku is a beautiful city. Some streets are narrow so we have had to do a little bit of work on laying out the best possible build for the circuit, but it will work well and it will look great on TV. Street racing is an integral part of F1 and its tradition. It adds a different kind of challenge, and therefore excitement, to the Grand Prix. Cars, teams, and drivers have to adapt to the different conditions. Baku will offer a new dimension to F1's long and glorious history of street racing.