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Azerbaijan GP latest to fall as F1’s virtual series nets strong audience

A branding of Baku's Grand Prix near the Baku Boulevard on May 13, 2019 in Baku, Azerbaijan (Photo by Thomas Eisenhuth/Getty Images)

The Azerbaijan Grand Prix has become the latest stop on the 2020 Formula 1 calendar to be postponed because of the global spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Race organiser Baku City Circuit said today that it has postponed the race, which was due to be held on June 7 and becomes the eighth Formula 1 race to be called off this season.

The organisers said: “BCC’s primary concern throughout has been the health and wellbeing of the Azerbaijani people as well as all visiting F1 fans, staff and championship participants.

“The postponement was agreed upon after extensive discussions with Formula 1 as well as the FIA [Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile] and the government of the Azerbaijan Republic. This comes as a direct result of the ongoing global Covid-19 pandemic and has been based entirely on the expert guidance provided to us by the relevant authorities.”

BCC is to liaise with the relevant stakeholders, with “a view to announcing a new race date later in the 2020 season”.

The earliest the 2020 season can now begin would be in Montreal, Canada on June 14. Races in Australia, Bahrain, China, the Netherlands, Spain and Vietnam have already been postponed and the iconic Monaco Grand Prix has been cancelled altogether.

Meanwhile, Formula 1’s new Esports Virtual Grand Prix series recorded strong viewing figures for its debut race yesterday (Sunday).

As one of several rights-holders keen to maintain a connection with their fans – and provide some content to broadcasters – Formula 1 announced the new series on Friday, running virtual races in place of every postponed race.

The race attracted a peak live audience of 395,000 concurrent viewers across Facebook, Twitch and YouTube, according to Esports Charts, the esports analysis company.

The race was also streamed live on the F1.com website and by rights-holding broadcasters, including pay-television operator Sky in the UK.

The stream on Formula 1’s official YouTube channel had been watched by 1.33 million viewers on a live or delayed basis by the middle of this afternoon. A further 403,500 viewers had watched the highlights programme.

Facebook had attracted 699,000 viewers to its live/delayed stream and Sky had posted 69,000 viewers for its stream of the live race coverage.

The host broadcast was provided live from the Gfinity Esports Arena in London with each driver joining the race remotely.

Formula 2 driver Guanyu Zhou of China won the race. Celebrities who took part included golfer Ian Poulter, cyclist Chris Hoy and singer Liam Payne.

The virtual Australian Grand Prix will be the second stop of the season on April 5.