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Racing towards the future: Building Baku’s Formula 1 facilities

Despite rumours that the ongoing construction of what could possibly be the fastest street track in Formula 1 could be cancelled due to oil-related worries in Azerbaijan's economy, Baku is set to host its first Formula 1 race - the European Grand Prix - from 17 to 19 June 2016 - in what is the latest in a series of major international sporting events to come to the Azerbaijani capital.

Construction for what has been called one of Formula 1’s narrowest tracks began in June 2015. Work had previously been halted to focus efforts on finishing the many facilities needed to host the European Games athletics championships in Baku in 2015. However, progress on building both the track itself and the extra facilities needed to host the race quickly got in full swing – adding another dimension to the opportunities on offer in Azerbaijan’s construction sector.


The track itself

As Baku will host a street circuit, much of the actual track has been built before – after all, the cars will be utilising existing roads. However, there is still much work to be done in laying out the infrastructure sections needed to host the crowd seating, pits and crew areas, trackside safety features and other amenities, not to mention the additions to Baku’s tourism infrastructure and the construction work this will involve.

In terms of the actual track, a regular part of street circuit construction is making sure the road surface is in top condition. Purpose built circuits feature super-smooth tarmac surfaces to offer maximum grip. Part of the construction process will be to make sure the road conditions are perfect. A poor surface could cause drivers to lose vital seconds from lap times and potentially crash. As the Baku circuit will be particularly tight, this is something the track’s builders will be keen to avoid.

Many F1 races, particularly the world famous Monaco Grand Prix, take place in areas of outstanding beauty. The Baku event continues this trend. The track will wind for 6 km, roughly 3.7 miles, through the city’s Old Town and along the sea front. The most speed will be generated along the 2.2 km (1.32 miles) main straight, which runs the length of Baku’s seaside promenade.


Not just building a motorsports heritage for Baku

Formula 1 races attract thousands of tourists, which means many cities require the construction of extra facilities to house all the motorsports fans. Baku is no different. When the street circuit project was announced in 2014, several key property developers took notice.

The Trump Organisation announced the building of the 33-storey sail shaped Trump International Hotel & Tower to accommodate the influx of tourists with cash to spend in 2014. Donald Trump, the organisation’s Chairman and President, promised: "When we open, visitors and residents will experience a luxurious property unlike anything else in Baku.” The hotel was completed in 2015.

The Absheron Hotel Group is also building a luxury 29-storey development in Baku. At the time of going to press, construction was still ongoing.


Construction unaffected by manat movement

While the current oil and gas crisis has had a negative effect on the Manat, losing a third of its value against the US dollar in January 2016, key players in the race are unfazed. A statement issued by Baku City Circuit, Baku’s F1 organisers, said: “The devaluation of the Manat will have no impact with regards to the staging of the first ever Formula 1 race in Azerbaijan.

“In fact, when the budget for the Grand Prix of Europe was approved, it was initially calculated in US dollars. As a result, we not expecting any changes to the current event budget.”

The annual fee Baku will have to pay to continue as the host of the European Grand Prix is estimated to be around $13 million. However, the economic benefits of staging such a prestigious event – both long and short term – could be huge. Tourism will bring in many millions of dollars, but boosts in the local construction industry as a result of the required building works could push returns even higher, and offer more opportunities for would-be suppliers to Azerbaijan’s building sector.


Image: Flickr.com (Jez Elliot)

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