F1 set to move to shock new frontier – but is it a good idea?


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Bernie Ecclestone and Flavia Briatore

Formula One fans are very used to be shocked. So much so, that when Bernie Ecclestone announces that he is to take the sport to a surprise part of the world a weary reaction tends to follow.

The F1 supremo has now reportedly struck a deal to take the sport to the new frontier of Azerbaijan, and to hear that his old pal Flavio Briatore has been heavily involved in the talks will not come as a shock to anyone.

Briatore, who has been nicknamed the 'Bling King of Azerbaijan' after he opened his couture business 'Billionaire' in the capital Baku, will trouser a seven-figure bonus for acting as a linkman in the creation of the new race, according to a report in the Daily Mail.

"We're going to Azerbaijan," Ecclestone said. "The people out there [in Azerbaijan] are talking about holding a race in 2015.

"That may be a bit soon - unless it's at the end of the season, that's a possibility. But 2016 is more likely."

But what of Azerbaijan as the home to a new circuit in a sport that appears hell-bent on moving to lucrative new markets and globalisation?

Ecclestone has not confirmed a date for the Baku race but seems adamant it will take place around the streets of Baku - a circuit that would take in the best of the city.

He is also still hopeful of arranging a future race around the streets of London, of course, as Motorhead mentioned very recently.

A race in Baku could potentially take the F1 calendar to 22 Grand Prix events, with the Grand Prix of America in New Jersey delayed until 2015 at least.

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Flavio Briatore and his wife Elisabetta Gregoraci

Meanwhile, the Indian Grand Prix is reportedly rejoining the calendar in an early-season slot.

Ecclestone, never one to shy away from controversy, reportedly remains hopeful of taking the sport to the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi this October. Given the turbulent political situation in Ukraine that is ongoing, it would surely be hugely problematic.

As for Azerbaijan as a country? Well, the oil-rich nation will be the sport's first destination in the former Soviet Union.

At the crossroads of western Asia and eastern Europe, Azerbaijan is a very important and attractive expansion for Ecclestone with his motives patently clear as he seeks further growth for the sport's potential markets.

As fans of the motorsport have seen for many years, Ecclestone has no qualms whatsoever about storming into the world's biggest trouble spots, regardless of any eye-opening backdrop.

He is even planning to travel to Russia in the next few weeks to meet president Vladimir Putin at a very sensitive time amid the troubles in Ukraine.

Ecclestone's relationship with Putin demonstrates how determined he is to let no one or nothing stand in the way of his attempts to add further global reach to his sport.

The F1 board have, of course, stuck with the 83-year-old despite him having been described as "unreliable and corrupt" by a High Court judge.

He awaits criminal proceedings for alleged bribery, but he soldiers on with a meeting with Putin - just the latest in his high-power talks for future Grand Prixs.

"I have no problem with Vladimir," he said. "He ran a good Winter Olympics. We get on very well — no problems."

Ecclestone, of course, previously backed Putin’s anti-gay propaganda stance and supported his ideas on the subject. Nothing is likely to change in his pursuit of globalising the sport.

So the reported Azerbaijan race will be just the latest controversial move for F1 and for Ecclestone. Is it really a good idea? Well, that might just be missing the point.

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