How Baku hopes to get back on the F1 2020 calendar

Adam Cooper

The Baku organisers are now in limbo, awaiting any news on an alternative date – and they are ready to press the button and prepare the venue should it prove to be possible to hold the race within 2020.

Of the eight Grands Prix lost thus far only Monaco has formally declared that it is not seeking a replacement date in 2020. However, Australia is not regarded as a serious candidate, due to the sheer scale of the operation involved readying Albert Park for the second time in a calendar year.

Four of the remaining events on the waiting list are permanent circuits, and two – Hanoi and Baku – are temporary street venues. In both cases they face greater logistical challenges than the established tracks when accepting new dates, due to the time required to build up their facilities.

It was that extended lead time that forced Baku City Circuit’s hand and led to a relatively early call on a postponement, before any physical preparation work had commenced.

“It became a bit clearer after the unfortunate turn of events in Australia,” BCC boss and race promoter Arif Rahimov tells Motorsport.com.

“I guess it was quite devastating for the promoter in Australia, putting up all the work and effort and spending all that time and money to get ready for the event, only for it to be cancelled at the last minute.

“That’s a situation that I would never want to put my own team into, and I really felt sorry for what they had to go through. After that it became clearer, the direction that things were going, and then we saw more cancellations of global events worldwide, including Euro 2020, and now the Olympic Games. There was pressure from all the different sides.”

Alexander Albon, Toro Rosso STR14

Alexander Albon, Toro Rosso STR14 Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

On the positive side by not starting on the circuit build-up, Baku avoided the situation that Albert Park was in, with a ton of money spent and nothing to show for it.

“Indeed, yes. We had made some orders, but these are things that we can use next year or at a later stage if the race is coming up later.

“But all the expenses that we would have incurred that would have been just a waste, they haven’t happened. So we haven’t incurred any direct financial loss as of now.”

Baku has joined the other postponed races in waiting for news on an alternative date. Rahimov says there’s some flexibility.

“We’ve already had the race in April and June. The critical thing in Azerbaijan particularly is the schools, if it’s the school season. That’s what influences the race date the most. However, we’ve had races in April when there’s still school, so we’ve seen both cases.

“It would probably be a bit tougher to have a race just at the beginning of the school season, which is September 15th. However, I think there are a lot more complications involved in setting up the calendar, so we’re trying to provide as much flexibility as we can.”

However, that doesn’t extend to running the race in the winter months.

“The main concern is to make sure that given we have the clarity quite soon, that we are given two and half or three months’ notice, that’s really important.

“And the second part is that it’s in the warm season when people don’t have to freeze outside, or we will have empty grandstands, which we really don’t want. So we would want the race before the middle of October.

“That COVID-19 will go away is something that no one can predict, but the other two depend on it clearing up early in the summer.”

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF90

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF90 Jerry Andre / Motorsport Images

Jerry Andre / Motorsport Images

Rahimov insists that he’s not yet been given a heads-up on possible alternatives: “We cannot have the new date until things clear up, we can’t just speculate on a new date.

“That’s quite logical, and it wasn’t a debate, it was something that we put on the table and everyone agreed with it. It’s not just us, I think they agreed with all the other promoters whose races have been postponed, we’re not going to speculate about the date, we can only set the date when the situation with COVID-19 is clear.

“There is very unfortunately no way to know about it. I hope that it’s going to clear up by the summer. It’s a matter of when it will clear up, if we can see the downturn in early June that’s one thing, but if it stays with us until the end of August, it’s definitely going to be a no-go for our race. We cannot postpone it as late as November.”

Azerbaijan is known to pay the Formula 1 organisation one of the highest hosting fees of any event, and as with all races, the funds are transferred well in advance.

In theory what happens to that cash in the event of a complete cancellation depends on who made the final call. However, it’s now understood that in the exceptional current circumstances venues will not be expected to forfeit their fee for a race that doesn’t happen.

“I think it will be a major revenue loss for F1, unfortunately,” says Rahimov. “But it is force majeure, it’s something that’s outside our control. And it’s not just local, it’s a global force majeure.

“These sorts of situations are accounted for in the force majeure clause of the contract. Our government certainly will not lose money if the race doesn’t happen. The fact that the race won’t be hosted will be beyond our control.

“It’s not just a promoter decision to stop the race, we had several decrees from cabinet ministers to stop all gatherings. We’re in a quarantine regime, similar to most of western Europe.

“It’s illegal for us to even promote the race right now, so we’re in a situation where we’re prohibited to make any actions to host the race, which would have happened in two months, so it’s literally beyond our control.”

Pierre Gasly, Red Bull Racing RB15

Pierre Gasly, Red Bull Racing RB15 Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images