Formula One in the Middle East
Dubai may be known for its bright lights and excesses, but Bahrain is the Gulf’s traditional home for sports and leisure. A small island state connected to Saudi Arabia by the King Fahd Causeway, Bahrain enjoys a mild climate, a modern economy, and a vibrant lifestyle that melds east and west.
All those selling points helped it secure the region’s first Formula One race way back in 2004. Over a decade later, the annual event is more popular than ever, drawing a diverse mix of locals and tourists eager to see Ferrari, McLaren, and Williams competing against a backdrop of palm trees and hazy, sun-drenched skies.
It’s a once in a lifetime experience, and if you’re staying at any one of our Millennium hotels in Abu Dhabi – the Grand Millennium Al Wahda, Kingsgate Hotel Abu Dhabi or Millennium Corniche Hotel Abu Dhabi, it’s less than an hour’s flight away.
Italy to Bahrain on Racing Slicks
The first Formula One season was held in 1950, and won by Giuseppe ‘Nino’ Farina for Alfa Romeo. Subsequent years have seen racing legends born, rivalries formed, and the cars reach phenomenal speeds.
The only constant has been change, and in the early 2000s that meant moving beyond Europe, the traditional home of Formula One, in search of a global audience. As Bernie Ecclestone, the head of Formula One, famously declared, “Europe is finished [for racing].”
That paved the way for Bahrain, and although contentious at the time, Ecclestone’s decision to launch a Middle East race has been vindicated by its popularity and continued success.
Once Upon a Time in the East
Credit: typhoonski / Getty Images
Bahrain began its transformation from sleepy coastal town to a modern metropolis back in the 1970s. Funded by oil reserves that slept beneath its desert sands, the country brought luxury hotels, international restaurants, and big American cars to the region while they were still a sought after rarity. In the process, it established Manama, the capital, as a glamorous regional hub.
A lot has changed since those early days, but Bahrain has always occupied a special place in Middle Eastern hearts. It a rare trait, and one that has helped unify the Gulf States and the wider MENA region behind the annual race. But it wasn’t an easy sell.
And We’re Go
Credit: Juergen Sack / Getty Images
German’s Michael Schumacher won the inaugural Bahrain F1 Grand Prix in 2004. What most people don’t know is the investment needed to make that a reality. Located in the heart of the Sakhir desert, the 5.4 kilometre circuit took almost two years to complete and cost USD 150 million.
Since that first race the event has won critical acclaim from both drivers and the fans that descend on Manama every season. It’s also provided a stepping-stone to broader motorsports in the region. When Abu Dhabi won the rights to host a race in 2009 it was thanks to the groundwork undertaken by Bahrain.
The two races attract very different crowds, and while Abu Dhabi and its yachts are designed for the international jet set, Bahrain provides a more local event aimed at a regional audience. There’s also talk of a third, Qatar-based race, being added to the F1 season.
Regardless of what happens, the heart and soul of Middle East motorsports rests with Bahrain, and the Sakhir desert circuit that began it all. If you’re in the neighbourhood, it’s a must see weekend.
The Bahrain F1 Grand Prix 2016 will take place between the 1st and 3rd of April.