First impressions are important

When I am old and grey, maybe I will write a guide for new race promoters about how to stage a Grand Prix and get good publicity from it. The very first point I will make in this consulting document is that you need to advertise the race in the airport. Successful races usually have adverts for the race before one gets to immigration. Baku did that. There was no way that anyone in this town would not know what was happening. It was written on every bridge between the airport and the city. That was a great start.

But, let us rewind just a little, and look at the most important ambassadors. You might argue that it is the immigration folk, but no-one is at their best at 05.30. A smile never hurts. However I believe that the first impressions of a place are usually created by the taxi drivers. They are important ambassadors for a country and, all too often, they are robbers and cheats. Ask international travellers if they feel sorry for taxi drivers because of the onset of Uber, and you won’t much sympathy because we have all been ripped off too many times. I’m all for set prices from airports to the city (as they have in Montreal) because at least you know that you can trust the people. It is a simple thing, but very effective. Arriving in Baku, I was met by a bunch of squabbling robbers all trying to get me in their cabs with any trick in the book. I asked for a meter and was told “No problem, no problem” and, of course, there was no meter. The price, they suggested, was 40 Manat. What they did not know is that I had read a guide sent out by the race organisers, which made it clear that a taxi from the airport to downtown costs 20 Manat. The meter in the cab I finally got recorded 12, but we were unable to get through to the hotel because of road closures relating to the Grand Prix and the taxi driver was kind enough to show me how to get to my hotel and so I gave him 30 Manat and a handshake, for being a nice fellow and doing some good for his country.

I learned also that one does not trust policemen, because I asked several of them which cabs could be trusted and they all agreed that 40 Manat was fine, which they obviously know is not the case.

This aside, my first impression of Baku was the smell of burning oil that was in the air as I walked out of the terminal building. The trip into the city, on nice new roads, revealed lots of nice new buildings, all spotless. It is clearly not a good place to indulge in graffiti. So Banksy, stay at home on this one. When I did finally find my way to the hotel (a short 300 metre walk with luggage), they could not find my booking, but that is not unusual with a new Grand Prix and I am a patient man (up to a point). The boys on the desk were very nice, very keen to please and very apologetic. I am sure they will sort it out. They gave me a room because after a second overnight flight in three days, I was ready for a snooze. My room overlooks the main straight, with views of the Flame Towers and the pit lane exit. Everything looks neat and new. The Internet works and one can access everything (which is not the case in some places we visit). In a while I will go and have a wander around and see what we are working with here, but for now I’m going to have breakfast…

40 thoughts on “First impressions are important

  1. I thought you were old and grey now? 🙂

    To be honest, it’s a farce that you have to turn up to places like Baku when there are other circuits with infinitely more F1 history without a grand prix due to the sheer greed of the rights holder.

  2. When I go to a new country I always use the public toilets at the airport as my very first action. If they’re clean and tidy you know you’ve landed in a decent country as the people care enough to make sure their public restrooms are clean. If they’re not you know this will reflect on the whole country.

  3. How to promote a new GP, Step one, hire Joe Saward, step two, listen to him and do what he says…
    Thank you for these lovely insights.

  4. I don’t know why most countries don’t copy the Myanmar system for airport taxis. You go to a taxi booth in arrivals and tell them where you are going. All hotels in the city of Yangon are the same price (Kyat 8,000 from memory = €6). You get given a ticket which pays for the ride. If the aircon is working, which is not often,I always give a reasonable tip on top.


  5. As ever how right you are and I, for one, shall look forward to your piece on Baku itself, though I shall not be in a hurry to visit and the track for which I can find no enthusiasm.
    I was amused by your comment about your humour, some of your blog retorts, all wholly deserved, suggest your fuse is nearly as short as mine.

  6. And no sign of anybody with their head staved in off of a policeman’s truncheon which must help with those impressions, I imagine?

  7. Hi Joe, just wondered if you’d seen Bernie’s comments where he said he did not understand the concept of human rights and he agreed with the jailing of journalists in the country. Is the commericial rights holder not subject to the same rules as the competitors regarding bringing the sport into disrepute?

  8. What did you have for breakfast in Baku?

    Is the event selling well with the locals and foreign fans?

    Hope you enjoy another new adventure on the F1 map.

  9. I’m not sure that Baku is on my list of places to visit, but your travelogue is as fascinating as ever. Thanks for blogging more than just F1.

    1. Hmmm, I keep thinking of Silverstone when there’s a torrential downpour; that often feels as if it’s below sea level.

  10. Could not agree more on the cab drivers. Due to far too many bad experiences in a variety of locations, I avoid taking cabs if at all possible, but ended up having to take a couple in Montreal last weekend (Thanks again for yet another awesome, interesting and very informative “Audience”, Joe). I noticed the screens in the cabs periodically came up with messages reminding the drivers it was the race weekend and to be polite & courteous to the passengers.

    I thought it a shame that people in the service industry, of which I count myself one, had to be reminded of what they are there to do, but at least they obeyed the information.

    The driving was still as psychotic as ever, but you can’t have everything in one go

  11. Sounds like a comedy of errors Joe.
    Themes of Peter Sellers in Pink Panther and “follow that Taxi”.
    Firstly cab drivers trying a fast one.
    Then road blocks.
    Welcome to Asia err Eurasia err Europe 😉
    Baku someplace in The Back waters of

  12. “However I believe that the first impressions of a place are usually created by the taxi drivers.” That has been my experience, too. I recall returning from the Singapore Grand Prix one year and catching a taxi home from Adelaide Airport.

    After much arm waving and pointing the way I sat back and reflected that the difference between Singapore taxi drivers and Adelaide taxi drivers is that the former speak English, operate clean vehicles and know their way around the city in which they are operating.

  13. I love your travel vignettes joe. I have done some remote work for Baku but haven’t been there myself. It has some truly incredible architecture. The combination of a dictatorial leader and obscene wealth seems to produce wonderful buildings, so hopefully it gives us a great event too.

  14. Bernie apparently just said the US is a s****hole compared to Baku. You are there, what is your comparative assessment? If you think it’s true, I will consider making the move from Santa Monica. Tongue firmly in cheek, of course, but in a serious vein do his words mean another GP is possible in America? Was the comment intended to deflate Chris Pook for negotiation purposes?

    He said the same words about Montreal–are they trembling?

      1. Often. Far, far too often. Your anti campaign seems to have softened. Time for another broadside ?

      2. Re “sometimes”; seems some times turns up a fair bit.

        Like others have said, thanks for the travel reports.

      3. [Yesterday’s Guardian story] Rebecca Vincent of Sport for Rights commented: “Bernie Ecclestone’s attitude to human rights is an embarrassment for Formula One. ”

        Perhaps she should have shortened that to:

        “Bernie Ecclestone is an embarrassment for Formula One.”?

  15. Having visited Baku (to cover Eurovision) a few years ago, I would love to know just how many times you are asked ‘what do you think of our Grand Prix, what do you think of our city, and what do you think of our food’ by the local media 🙂

  16. With Mr E overseeing this inaugural GP, will President Aliyev get the same race day vanity broadcast coverage and driver access that Putin receives in Sochi? Thanks for the postcard from Baku

  17. another off-track by me – now when RB confirmed DR for another 2 years and they Certainly don’t want Carlos to go elsewhere, is there any sign/hope that they are about to upgrade TR to higher level i.e. to be able to challenge the leaders on merit?

  18. Don’t you say stupid things sometimes about french speaking people in Montréal per example ?

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