BAHRAIN

BIG AM­BI­TIONS OF A SMALL IS­LAND

F1 Racing (UK) - - RACE PREVIEW -

WHEN one thinks of the Bahrain Grand Prix, most fans would tend to place it in the cat­e­gory of the ‘new’ grands prix, to­gether with an emerg­ing group of di­verse coun­tries seek­ing to es­tab­lish them­selves on the race cal­en­dar and grow mo­tor­sport in their re­gions. Whilst el­e­ments of that may re­main true, the Bahrain In­ter­na­tional Cir­cuit is en­ter­ing its 15th year of op­er­a­tion, putting it in the top half of the most es­tab­lished races on the F1 cal­en­dar.

Tak­ing in the views from the top of the iconic Sakhir tower, you can see not only how the cir­cuit has de­vel­oped over the years, but also get a feel of a more ma­ture and con­fi­dent place which has found its niche in the sport and has ma­tured to join the grown-ups.

WORLD-CLASS FA­CIL­I­TIES

The F1 track it­self re­mains largely un­changed since 2004, and, given the whole cir­cuit was pur­pose-built from scratch with­out lim­i­ta­tion on space, its fa­cil­i­ties from a rac­ing point of view are up there with any F1 cir­cuit. Since its first race, the am­bi­tion of the cir­cuit, un­der the pa­tron­age of the King­dom’s Crown Prince, His Royal High­ness Prince Sal­man bin Ha­mad Al Khal­ifa, has been re­lent­less. The mantra of “Don’t let your size limit your am­bi­tion” flows through­out the BIC and the team be­hind it. It aims to be the home of mo­tor­sport in the Mid­dle East and de­liver a bet­ter ex­pe­ri­ence year af­ter year, ac­cord­ing to the cir­cuit Chief Ex­ec­u­tive, Sheikh Sal­man bin Isa Al Khal­ifa.

“Ev­ery year, we try and im­prove the ex­pe­ri­ence for ev­ery­one who comes here for F1”, says Sheikh Sal­man. “The only way you can do that is be­ing con­stantly crit­i­cal of your work, look­ing through ev­ery de­tail of how the race week is run and al­ways seek­ing to do bet­ter.

“Ul­ti­mately, there are 21 races on the cal­en­dar and we have to dif­fer­en­ti­ate our­selves. For­tu­nately, I have a pas­sion­ate team at the BIC who all share that vi­sion and hope­fully when fans come here they can see that.”

Sheikh Sal­man is a recog­nis­able face in the world of mo­tor­sport, hav­ing been part of the BIC pro­ject since the very be­gin­ning. Helped by the fact that he is him­self a petrol­head, and re­port­edly an ac­com­plished driver too, there are few race pro­mot­ers who get so in­volved with the sport at ev­ery level. Walk­ing through the pad­dock with him takes an age as team prin­ci­pals, driv­ers, jour­nal­ists and other For­mula 1 folk en­gage with him.

LIFE OUT­SIDE F1

What is ob­vi­ous at the BIC, and some­thing they are keen to point out, is that it is about more than just F1. In 2012 the BIC opened its kart­ing track; typ­i­cally of the ap­proach here, it was built to a stan­dard which has en­abled it to host two CIK-FIA World Cham­pi­onships. Two years later came the flood­lights and the host­ing of night races on the main track, and the fol­low­ing year the first off-road Land Rover Ex­pe­ri­ence in the Mid­dle East. Com­bine all of that

“Ev­ery year, we try and im­prove the ex­pe­ri­ence for ev­ery­one who comes here for F1” -Sheikh Sal­man bin Isa Al Khal­ifa

with its Nhra-af­fil­i­ated drag strip, plus ex­ten­sive driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ences, and it’s not hard to see why it claims to be the home of mo­tor­sport in the re­gion.

“We host over 350 events here ev­ery year,” says BIC Chair­man Arif Rahimi. “It’s cru­cial for us to en­sure we have a sus­tain­able busi­ness model and that means we can’t just rely on F1. The de­vel­op­ments we have put in over the years are a tes­ta­ment to that aim, and it’s great now to see a hub of ac­tiv­ity all year round.”

BAHRAIN BE­YOND THE BIC

Life out­side of the track mir­rors the devel­op­ment of the BIC. Bahrain, as a coun­try, has not taken a ‘build and they will come’ ap­proach, but a mea­sured ap­proach to devel­op­ment and tourism. The main dif­fer­ence com­pared with many of its neigh­bours is the rich his­tory of a small king­dom is­land with his­toric links across the world, in­clud­ing a 200-year re­la­tion­ship with the UK, with which it re­tains close ties. The 2300BC fort and mu­seum are must-sees to learn about the is­land’s his­tory, and for a flavour of the lo­cal cul­ture, the Souq in Manama of­fers a su­perb sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ence.

KEEP­ING UP WITH THE TIMES

At the same time the is­land has kept up to date with mod­ern tourism. The glam­our of the Sof­i­tel, lo­cated al­most ad­ja­cent to the track, and the Ritz Carl­ton in Seef are well known to reg­u­lar vis­i­tors. With the re­cent ad­di­tion of The Four Sea­sons, and new ar­rivals in­clud­ing the Jumeirah Royal Saray in Seef and the Wyn­d­ham Grand in Juf­fair, there is no short­age of op­tions for the dis­cern­ing trav­eller.

There is also a grow­ing restau­rant scene. The wellestab­lished Meat Co in Adliya of­fers a su­perb rage of op­tions, whilst the re­cently opened Foundry restau­rant – also in Adliya – has be­come the lat­est hip venue in town, with a vast ar­ray of sump­tu­ous cock­tails and var­ied menu op­tions cater­ing for all tastes.

Over­all, one gets the im­pres­sion that Bahrain has grown in con­fi­dence over the years and is keen to demon­strate that to the world. While a sig­nif­i­cant pro­por­tion of its fan base comes from the GCC re­gion, in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors are be­gin­ning to recog­nise Bahrain as a des­ti­na­tion of choice for a fly-away grand prix. It’s not hard to see why.

Bahrain is now well-es­tab­lished on the For­mula 1 cal­en­dar and the cir­cuit aims to be the home of mo­tor­sport in the Mid­dle East

Away from the cir­cuit, Bahrain has a rich and var­ied mix of cul­tures, and vis­i­tors to the Is­land will have no short­age of ho­tels from which to choose

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