Formula One commercial chief Bernie Ecclestone says the Azerbaijan Grand Prix will make its debut next season, despite concerns over the country’s human rights record.
Known as the Baku European GP, it is to be held as a street race in the country’s capital, Baku.
A report this year by Human Rights Watch said that there had been a deterioration in the former Soviet Republic state’s record, with more than 30 human rights defenders – including political activists and journalists – convicted or imprisoned.
Speaking ahead of the Bahrain GP, which was cancelled in 2011 amid violent clashes after an uprising demanding political reforms, Ecclestone said he did not think there would be any problems.
“It’s going to be another good race,” he said.
Earlier this week, the sport’s official website carried a legal notice stating “The Formula One Group is committed to respecting internationally recognised human rights in its operations globally”.
The Human Right Watch report on Azerbaijan said “the Azerbaijani government escalated repression against its critics, marking a dramatic deterioration in its already poor rights record”.
Asked if the human rights situation had been checked with a view to hosting next year’s race, Ecclestone said “we have” before adding “I think everybody seems to be happy. There doesn’t seem to be any big problem there”.
Ecclestone also addressed questions about the worrying decline in the status of iconic European races.
More races are heading to countries in Asia and the Middle East, where government funding can better cover the high hosting fees. Qatar is reportedly very keen on hosting a race, although Ecclestone did not say on Sunday whether that was a possibility.
The German GP was erased from the 2015 schedule because of financial problems – and uncertain to be held next year.
And, Ecclestone has not guaranteed the future of Italy’s famed Monza race, which is held outside Milan in September and is particularly popular with Ferrari fans.
Ecclestone is in ongoing talks with Monza promoters over a new deal, with the current agreement set to expire after next year’s race. There is an impasse, with promoters urging Ecclestone to lower his prices, but with the F1 supremo also in the position of receiving potential offers from other countries keen to host the race and able to afford it.
“We have to wait and see. They don’t have an agreement. Bit like Germany really,” said Ecclestone, who somewhat dismissed the idea that historic races like Monza, Hockenheim and Nuerburgring were too important to be replaced.
“I tell you something, I was told that when we didn’t have a race in France (Magny-Cours). And Germany now,” he said. “We’ve got some good replacements, haven’t we?”