Baku F1 organisers say push to avoid Le Mans clash paying off

Baku Grand Prix organisers say that their push to avoid a Le Mans clash this year is paying off, with ticket sales and interest in their race up 2017.

Baku F1 organisers say push to avoid Le Mans clash paying off
Fernando Alonso, McLaren MP4-31
Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF16-H
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB12
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid leads Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing RB12
Baku city circuit at turn 11 with the castle
Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing RB12
Esteban Gutierrez, Haas F1 Team VF-16
Start of the race
Kevin Magnussen, Renault Sport F1 Team RS16
The grid before the start of the race

The inaugural event last year took place on the same weekend as the Le Mans 24 Hours, and had an impact on fan attendance and media coverage.

In a bid to make the most of a newly-titled Azerbaijan Grand Prix, race chiefs asked the FIA to shift its date for this year, so it now takes place the week after Le Mans.

Azerbaijan race promoter Arif Rahimov said that the change has been positive, with fan interest increasing ahead of the 2017 event.

"Obviously it is good to have more media and spectators in Azerbaijan for the race," said Arif Rahimov during a visit to London.

"Last year, a lot of people got the chance to see what the race looks like and it attracted a lot of international spectators, and we are happy that those spectators won't have to choose between the two races.

"On the press side, Le Mans is a big event and a lot of media had to choose between the races and they won't have to do that this year.

"Another positive thing is that our race isn't back-to-back with any other race, so we have more time to prepare ourselves, together with F1 management and their technical teams, to make sure that the track is right.

"Last year was quite a bit of a logistical nightmare to organise everything in such a short period of time."

Ticket sales

While the Baku Grand Prix failed to sell out last year, Rahimov says he is encouraged with interest this year, as he thinks locals are now more engaged with the event after watching it on television.

When asked by Motorsport.com about how ticket sales were going, Rahimov said: "They are definitely up – from the trend that we see right now, in the same period of time it was last year, we have sold five times as many tickets as were sold in the same period last year.

"So we see a big change – which was probably influenced by the fact we had the television viewers last year, which persuaded people to go and buy a ticket.

"A lot of the locals got educated on what the race is, so they know what they are buying now and they just want to go and get there. They want to see the race, and they want to be part of the excitement."

While there will be no major track changes for this year, Rahimov said he is still working on the idea of opening up the circuit in the evenings to ticket holders.

Better race

One of the disappointments of the 2016 event was the spectacle of the race itself, as F1's drivers took it easy because they believed that the challenging track would result in a high attrition rate as had been observed in GP2.

Rahimov believes that things will be different next time time around, and he cites the way that Sochi's first race in 2014 was much less exciting than its incident-filled 2016 affair.

"The first year in Sochi was boring," he said. "There were no accidents, nothing there. I'm not saying the track was boring, it's a great track, but the first race was steady, the same as us. The next year, it was a great show.

"I think it's more to do with the confidence of the drivers as opposed to the regulation changes, with the engines and chassis etc.

"Once the confidence of the drivers has risen after the first race last year, it's going to be more interesting. You can see that in practice and qualifying in F1.

"The track is very unforgiving. You cannot make mistakes on this track. It's narrow and not forgiving. It's not only wider cars, but also the run-off areas and the corners which you have to get just right.

"You have to clip the kerb at the right point not to hit the wall, like Lewis [Hamilton] did last year for example. There is huge potential to put on a great show."

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