Safety fears and politics overshadow Azerbaijan Grand Prix

F1 drivers express concerns over 'narrow' street circuit as metal kerbs cause tyre problems in first practice in Baku

(Image credit: ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP/Getty Images)

This weekend's European Grand Prix at Baku in Azerbaijan is already embroiled in controversy after inflammatory comments from F1 ringleader Bernie Ecclestone and concerns over safety on the brand new street circuit.

Even before practice began on Friday some drivers had expressed concerns about the track. When the cars did finally take to the circuit there were immediately issues with tyre damage caused by kerbs.

There were discussions before the second practice session on Friday and officials cancelled a GP2 session.

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Several teams reported cuts to the left rear tyres after the first run. "One team's senior engineer said he believed the problem was down to the fact that the new street circuit was using metal kerbs rather than the usual rubber," reports the BBC.

Other concerns include the track layout. It features a 1.4-mile straight, the longest in F1, and some extremely tight stretches, which were described by Jenson Button as "unbelievably narrow at speed".

Nico Rosberg went as far as to question the FIA, motorsport's governing body. "There are rules that they have to make tracks, so I would hope that they have stuck to them – I am doubting it a little bit, looking at those corners," he said.

When the cars took to the track there were some close calls, as Daniel Ricciardo hit the wall on turn 15, one of the turns singled out by Button as dangerous.

"Twice Hamilton brushed the wall on the entry to turn three on the slippery surface but survived without sustaining any major damage. There were plenty of others who lost control though, with at least half the field going off track," reports Daniel Johnson of the Daily Telegraph.

Formula 1 has got off to a shaky start in Azerbaijan, says Kevin Eason of The Times, and the comments of Bernie Ecclestone have only added to the problems.

"Ecclestone is famed for his incendiary views, which include his admiration for Adolf Hitler and President Vladimir Putin, and he was in fighting form as his F1 circus geared up for this first grand prix around the streets of Baku," he says.

Asked, "somewhat optimistically given that [he] is taking about £25m off the Azerbaijanis for this Grand Prix", to criticise Azerbaijan's human rights record he responded by saying that some journalists and political activists "should" be prosecuted.

Ecclestone shrugged off the outraged response to his comments and insisted that F1's conscience was "100 per cent" clear.

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