sport

Azerbaijan confirmed for 2016

Formula 1's global expansion will continue in 2016 after Azerbaijan signed a deal to stage the 'Grand Prix of Europe' around a new street track in the country's capital Baku.

On the same week that Mexico sealed its long-awaited return to the F1 calendar from 2015 after a two-decade absence, Azerbaijan, another much-mooted new venue over recent months, has received the green light to join the schedule from the season after next.

The race will run on a new street circuit being constructed in the city with Baku's old medieval area and the Caspian Sea forming part of the event's backdrop. Like Russia - which will host its inagural grand prix in October - Azerbaijan is situated on the Asia-Europe boundary and will succeed Valencia, which dropped off the calendar last year, as the holder of the long-running European GP title.

"I am delighted to officially announce we have signed a contract to bring Formula 1 racing to Baku in 2016," said Azerbaijan's minister of youth and sport Azad Rahimov in a statement.

"Baku will be a spectacular addition to the Formula 1 calendar. Our location at the crossroads of eastern Europe and western Asia is a new frontier for Formula 1 racing.

"Azerbaijan is a modern European country that has established a reputation as a centre of sporting excellence. The deal to bring Formula 1 to Baku is a very significant new chapter in our ongoing success to attract the world's largest sporting events to our country.

"The course we are planning to design will be similar to leading street circuits already on the calendar."

Azerbaijan, a country rich in oil, has held a number of international sporting events in recent years and in 2015 will stage the first European Games, a multi-sport event to be held among athletes from all over Europe.

F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, who agreed the deal with the Azerbaijani authorities, added: "We are very happy Baku has joined the Formula One family. This will be a street race, which will pass through interesting and picturesque parts of Baku, and will meet the current Formula One criteria."

The confirmed additions of Mexico and Azerbaijan over the next two years raise the spectre of the calendar expanding beyond 20 races for the first time in F1's history, although teams have to agree for the schedule to go to 21 races or more.

The calendar, which stands at 19 events this year, could also include the addition of the prospective Grand Prix of America in New Jersey following two conseuctive postponements. However, Ecclestone has said that 2015 is still too early for organisers.

\"Somebody said to me the other day that New Jersey seem to have got their act together now and that they have got the money and are all in good shape. Whether or not that is true I don't know. The soonest it could come on the calendar is 2016," he told Forbes magazine.