By Alan Baldwin
MONACO (Reuters) - Baku will be a big hit with Formula One when oil-rich Azerbaijan hosts a grand prix for the first time next year, according to Italian Flavio Briatore.
The controversial and colorful former Benetton and Renault team boss, who has business interests in the Azeri capital and is close to Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone, helped make the deal happen.
"I have had a lot of friends there (in Baku) for many, many years and we hope it happens in 2015," said Briatore, speaking to Reuters outside Ecclestone's motorhome in the Monaco Grand Prix paddock at the weekend.
"It's very close to Europe, the city is amazing - it's like a little Dubai. And more importantly, everything is new," added Briatore, who left Formula One under a cloud in 2009 after a race-fixing scandal involving the previous year's Singapore Grand Prix.
"The heart of the town is renovated completely so you have the flavor of the old days and of the oil money. The hotels are amazing, the facilities for your guys is super. It's very nice."
Ecclestone confirmed separately that an agreement had been signed for a street race in Baku next year.
The grand prix, in a city on the shores of the Caspian sea, will be the second in the former Soviet Union with Russia due to host its first this year in Winter Olympics venue Sochi.
There is space on the calendar, with South Korea and India already dumped for this season and ruled out for 2015 while Mexico and a proposed New Jersey race look uncertain.
There has also been talk in France of a possible comeback for their race, last held at Magny-Cours in 2008, but Ecclestone poured cold water on that when asked whether it was likely to return in 2015.
"No. They'll knock at the door but I don't think we can do anything," the Briton told Reuters.
Magny-Cours head Serge Saulnier was quoted last week in the French media as saying the circuit was still in negotiations with Formula One Management and also looking for funding from regional authorities.
(Editing by John O'Brien)