Azerbaijan is not unfamiliar with the roar of supercars dicing through the ancient streets of its capital, most recently for the Baku World Challenge, nor with being in the global glare for major sporting events, such as the first European Games in 2015.
So, for the city to be at the centre of attention once more, this time as the latest addition on the bulging Formula One calendar for the 2016 Grand Prix of Europe (17-19 June), feels perfectly natural.
A circuit length of six kilometres (the longest after Spa-Francorchamps) and race distance of 305km with 20 corners (Turns 1, 2 and 3 are all 90-degree left-hand corners), Baku promises to be as demanding as it is spectacular.
‘There is huge excitement in and around Baku ahead of the inaugural F1 race on its streets this summer,’ says Arif Rahimov, executive director of Baku City Circuit Operations Company, the local F1 promoter.
‘Preparations have been ongoing since the moment the race was announced and everything is on schedule; we have been learning as much as we can to deliver the best possible race weekend. An amazing entertainment programme is being planned, including concerts every evening by major acts. We want people to come to Baku for the race and stay for the culture, excitement, fun and beauty this city has to offer.’
The street circuit was designed by track architect Hermann Tilke, who has described it as ‘challenging’ and thriving on ‘Baku’s very attractive urban atmosphere’. Venturing past the JW Marriott hotel, the route loops around Government House before heading west, bypassing the National Museum of History. The race continues towards the Maiden Tower, possibly one of Baku’s oldest landmarks.
From the tower, built as part of the Old Town wall in the 12th century when the sea lapped its base, the track turns into a narrow uphill stretch ‘that will reward pinpoint accuracy and courage,’ as Tilke said.
He’s not kidding. The corners look magnificently tight, but there will be plenty of opportunities for overtaking. An elevation change adds to the fun, before the circling of the UNESCO-listed Old Town walls is complete.
The Four Seasons Hotel has prime position on the track as the cars tear round the last bend, preparing for the 2.2km straight stretch along Neftchilar Avenue – a chance for the drivers to deploy the DRS and hit top speed right to the end of the circuit.
Did we mention that the circuit is anticlockwise? One of just a handful on the current grand prix calendar (including, most famously, Interlagos), Baku will put a considerable strain on drivers’ mental and physical toughness, not to mention the car’s transmissions.
The Baku City Circuit is a perfect balance between the old and the new; the capital’s striking contemporary architecture, buildings from the turn of the last century and those narrow, hugely atmospheric streets of the Old Town. Baku is a place where Europe meets Asia; a glorious melting pot and a stunning backdrop to the latest addition to the F1 global tour.