By Bharat Sharma
Sakhir (Bahrain), Dec 1 (IANS) Come April 6, Bahrain will be hosting its 10th Formula 1 Grand Prix, and for the first time under lights to make sure that they are not muscled out of the overcrowded calendar.
Situated in an archipelago in the Persian Gulf, Bahrain is a fast growing kingdom state. The F1 organisers have shown the way to new venues in Asia like India to make use of the infrastructure created for motorsports.
“We are not only a world class racing track, we are also a venue. We are open to hosting any event of quality,” Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) boss Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa told IANS.
Around 300 events, both on and off track, are organised annually at BIC, built in the middle of the desert area called Sakhir. While circuit owners are proud of hosting two-to-three international racing events every year, the $150 million facility is also hired out for weddings, birthday bashes, theme parties and corporate conclaves.
The infrastructure also hosts domestic racing series which vary from saloon cars to drag racing and karting, organised on a dedicated track.
“All these activities keep the circuit busy. That is what we want at the end of the day… whether it is F1 or any another social event,” says Sheikh Salman.
This approach has made BIC one of the busiest circuits in Asia ahead of Singapore, Abu Dhabi, Korea, Malaysia, China and India. However, a traditional venue like Japan is miles ahead in the popularity chart.
India is the latest Asian addition on the F1 calendar but is already struggling to keep the race with the fourth edition cancelled next year.
“If a small nation like Bahrain can do it, you can imagine what the scope is there in India. The Indian promoters need to attract more people towards the sport, something we have been trying to improve each year,” the chief executive said, adding that government support makes things a lot easier for them.
The Indian Grand Prix is among the few privately-run races, making the job tougher for organisers Jaypee Group.
“Government backing makes a huge difference. You can market the sport so much better. Dealing with customs and immigration officials also becomes easier. You have to convince the government of the benefits of F1,” said Sheikh Salman, who is currently busy with the ongoing round of World Endurance Championship (WEC) and Indian series MRF Challenge here.
F1 comes here in the first half of the season but the local officials greet everyone for other international events with equal warmth — from receiving the caravan at the airport to the time it leaves the Bahraini shores. The country’s national airlines — Gulf Air — still has the branding of this year’s race in April on all its carriers.
Its location also helps Bahrain, helping the F1 teams test their machines in hot conditions. The facility is near Europe which is a big plus logistically. Two pre-season tests will be held here ahead of the 2014 season when the new regulations come into effect.
As for Bahrain, as part of its innovative planning, it will become only the second F1 venue after Singapore to host a full night race, though Abu Dhabi has a day-night event with the sun setting during the Grand Prix.
What remains the biggest area of improvement?
“Every year we try to attract more crowds by inviting artists from all over the world. Most know about F1 but overall motorsports’ popularity will still take years to build,” added Sheikh Salman.
Considering the Indian presence in the paddock this weekend, the BIC called singer Sonu Nigam to perform his hit Bollywood numbers.