MANAMA, April 14 (Reuters) - Azerbaijan Grand Prix promoter Arif Rahimov has cleared the air with Formula One boss Chase Carey after criticism of the race by the sport’s new owners Liberty Media.
Liberty CEO Greg Maffei had told a media conference in Florida last month that Baku paid a big hosting fee but the race did “nothing to build the long-term brand and health of the business”.
The comment drew an angry response from Rahimov, who said at the time that it was “ignorant” and upsetting.
Speaking to reporters at the Bahrain Grand Prix on Friday, Rahimov said Carey had called soon after to reassure him about the race’s future.
“Chase Carey was strongly against what was said in the press by Greg Maffei,” he said.
”He said he’s really excited about the race, really wants to come and see the race and he’s heard a lot of good things and feels that we are a strategic partner to Formula One and he really wants to keep this race.
“It was a very good talk that we had and it was good to know that not everyone is sharing the opinion of Greg Maffei in Formula One.”
Carey, who is also in Bahrain for Sunday’s third race of the season, was not immediately available for comment.
Azerbaijan, which made its debut last year, pays a significant hosting fee. Although details remain confidential, Formula One insiders put the figure at around $50 million annually with an escalator clause.
That would be more than double what some European races pay.
Rahimov said the fee was not the highest but indicated he could seek a renegotiation of the contract when a break clause comes into effect in 2018.
“As the time goes, maybe we’ll try to get more rights or sources of income...we know what we want, roughly, how we can improve on the contract,” he added.
He suggested Formula One should introduce standard fees with two race categories -- European and flyaways. The fees are a major contributor to the sport’s revenues, along with television rights deals and sponsorship.
“I think what has to be done is that the promoters are given more rights in the areas where Formula One cannot utilise those rights,” said Rahimov, suggesting sponsorship of vending areas as an example.
Ticket sales for this year’s race in June were going well with more international interest, Rahimov said, and a crowd of around 35,000 hoped for compared to less than 25,000 last season. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)