F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone is lining up a Grand Prix in the capital of Azerbaijan as F1’s "move into turbulent new territory in the Black Sea region starts to look troubled," according to Kevin Eason of the LONDON TIMES. City officials in Baku have "put F1 on their list of must-have sporting events," and Ecclestone "is listening to a deal that could put the sport on the city’s streets as soon as next season." Ecclestone: “They are talking about 2015. That may be a bit soon unless it is the end of the season. That is a possibility but 2016 is more likely.” Baku is already playing host to the European Athletics Championships next year and has made several bids for a summer Olympic Games. The most notable large-scale event staged in the city to date "is probably the Eurovision Song Contest," which it staged in '12. However, Azerbaijan’s record on human rights "has been a source of concern" to the Western powers to add to the problems now mounting in Ukraine (LONDON TIMES, 3/4).
Events and Attractions
The "biggest opening round of rugby league in Sydney in two decades will go head-to-head against the A-League's expected sell-out cross-town derby on Saturday night," according to Michael Chammas of the SYDNEY MORNING HERALD. For the first time in the National Rugby League's history, seven games have "been scheduled in Sydney on the opening weekend." The NRL's return, however, has not "had an impact on the town's rapidly growing interest in football, with possibly the biggest crowd of the weekend expected to pile into Allianz Stadium" for Saturday night's A-League derby between Western Sydney Wanderers and Sydney FC. A crowd of "more than 40,000 is expected for the clash between the A-League's new fierce rivals." The NRL has denied that the "increase in Sydney matches for the start of the 2014 season was a bid to reduce interest in the A-League derby." Football Federation Australia CEO David Gallop said, "It was not deliberately scheduled against anything else that is going on in town. It is a reminder of the competitive nature of Sydney sport" (SMH, 3/4).
Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel, a four-time F1 world champion, "predicts a debacle for Red Bull unless they improve their car before the season opens at the Australian Grand Prix in two weeks," according to the AFP. Vettel: "First of all, just getting to the finish would be a success. If half the drivers fail to finish, then maybe we could take a few points." Red Bull Motorsports Dir Helmut Marko "echoed Vettel's concerns." Marko: "We are not where we want to be. The start of the season has come at least two months too early for us" (AFP, 3/4).
RENAULT ANXIOUS: REUTERS' Ian Ransom reported Renault has "made some progress in ironing out the engine problems that have blighted Formula One preseason testing," but will head into the season opener in Melbourne with "doubts about 'incomplete' preparations." Renault supplies champions Red Bull, Toro Rosso, Caterham and Lotus, and the "performance of their new engine disappointed at the tests in Jerez and Bahrain." Renault Sport F1 Deputy Managing Dir Rob White said in a statement, "We can't escape the fact that we did not complete the entire program with all the teams and that some Melbourne preparations are incomplete" (REUTERS, 3/3).
New Zealand Rugby is "considering a bid to host the next World Cup Sevens tournament," according to Duncan Johnstone of FAIRFAX NZ NEWS. New Zealand is one of 12 countries that have "expressed an interest in hosting the 2018 tournament." NZ has to "file a formal submission by early December and the successful host will be announced by the International Rugby Board in May next year" (FAIRFAX NZ NEWS, 3/4).