BIG AMBITIONS OF A SMALL ISLAND
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.
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