My first visit to the Bahrain Grand Prix last month was also my first return to the Kingdom in forty-six years.
It has changed a bit since 1973, they’ve built a race-track for a start. But despite the reclaimed land, addition of high-rise buildings and tourism, it has retained the character of the bustling Arab nation I remember.
It is easy enough to get to. A direct six-hour overnight flight courtesy of Gulf Air, sponsors of the Grand Prix, got me there on Friday morning (along with David Coulthard) well in time for the day’s track action and there are plenty of suitable hotels close to the airport in the capital, Manama.
One drawback is the lack of public transport to the circuit. Many hotels, mine included, provide free transfers to and from the circuit each day. Airport transfers were also included as part of my hotel package. Best to get it all arranged before you travel though – taxi could be quite pricey.
One advantage of evening/night races is that the track action does not start until early afternoon so there is plenty of opportunity to do some sightseeing or whatever in the mornings. I had a wander around what used to be the waterfront and fishing port but due to reclamation is now part of an inland waterway and a resting place for laid-up dhows. There are plenty of places to eat so arriving back in the city between eight and nine-thirty each evening posed no problems.
The journey to the circuit takes about thirty minutes and once out of the city centre is a Grand Prix of its own, flat out all the way down the highway, the only rule seeming to be – don’t take your foot off the throttle.
Viewing at the circuit is limited and by grandstand only with all but one stand situated at the first and last corners and along the main straight. There is no roving between stands even on Friday. The only other grandstand is the Oasis/Batelco stand situated on the infield alongside the straight behind the paddock. I chose this one for its photographic opportunities as it provides a view over much of the back of the track in its desert setting. There were plenty of empty seats and available space to move around even during the Grand Prix itself. It is not a particularly well-attended event.
An added bonus of this stand is that the support races, F2 plus the inevitable Porsche, were based in the garages beneath so I spent the time between track action mingling with the F2 teams. It is always interesting to have a look at the latest crop of runners and riders in this category. There are those that seem to have appeared from nowhere (Boccolacci and Correa), those that seem to have been around for ages but can’t make the next all-important step up (Latifi and Ghiotto) and those that are briefly passing through on their fast track to superstardom (Mick Schumacher).
With one third of Grands Prix now being run through the confines of city streets or parks, Bahrain’s wide-open spaces and uncluttered natural backdrop of sand, rock and palm trees made for a more appealing venue than I had anticipated, particularly when dark and some artistic coloured lighting is employed to compliment the floodlights.
It’s a friendly event and the temperature is pleasantly warm even though it rained on Saturday morning – one of Bahrain’s average of two days rain in March – and it was too windy for the aerial rides in the Fanzone to operate on race-day. The track layout and generous run-off areas are conducive to encouraging good racing. Apart from the main event, the two F2 races were particularly entertaining.
It is just a pity about the final result – no disrespect to Lewis – but I really thought I was going to see Charles Leclerc’s maiden win.
Note: Many of these images are taken from original prints, negatives and slides that are nearly 40 years old and are therefore not reproduced to the same standard as current day digital images. All reasonable attempts have been made to ensure these images are reproduced to the best possible standard, however, in some instances colour casts and blemishes may be present.