June 23, 2015

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) Azerbaijan's sports minister said Tuesday he wants a Formula One team to be run under the national flag, adding the government would support any companies interested in the project.

Oil-rich Azerbaijan will host its first grand prix next year on a street circuit in the capital, Baku, but has almost no history of participating in motor sport, whether with teams or drivers.

Sports Minister Azad Rahimov said the government was keen to see racers competing ''under the flag of Azerbaijan, under the Azerbaijan team or sponsorship.''

He added: ''We actually see the potential for that. It would be very interesting for the country to participate, after some time maybe, in this race for Formula One.''

The idea was not government policy, and would depend on businesses becoming involved, he said, but added ''we will be totally supporting'' any private investment. Projects are also under way to develop a new generation of young Azerbaijani drivers and help them progress up the ladder of motor sport series, he said.

The inaugural Azerbaijan Grand Prix will be run next year on an unusually long 6-kilometer track circling Baku's historic old town and city walls, under a four-year contract with an option for a further five years. It will be run in the daytime to start with, although Rahimov said a Singapore-style night race would be ''possible in the future.''

Rahimov compared the circuit to a mix between Monaco and Singapore because of the blend of historic buildings and modern skyscrapers along the route, adding: ''It's something special.''

Up to 11,000 foreign visitors could attend, he said. Rahimov declined to specify how much Azerbaijan was paying F1 bosses for the right to hold the race, citing commercial confidentiality.

He said other costs for the first race would amount to between 70 million and 90 million manats (from $66 million to $86 million), with costs set to decline sharply for subsequent races once new road surfaces are laid and equipment installed.

The stands for the circuit will be reused from this month's European Games to save money, Rahimov added.

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