The CEO of Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) tells us why we should all be heading to the F1
How far back does your history with the F1 go? I started life as a fruit farmer in the UK, but then a prep school friend of mine wanted to go racing; one thing led to another and I’ve been in motorsports for almost my entire career. I started out working for the organisers of the British Grand Prix, then the European Grand Prix and the FIA [Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile], where I was in charge of print media and TV, and so it went. Highlights include running the World Raleigh and working with Ayrton Senna while at McLaren, which was just a remarkable experience.
What is it about the sport that gets you? It’s the rarefied atmosphere, the noise and the smell of oil hanging in the air, which is literally like a drug. It’s also about the diverse range of people; the teams, the drivers, the spectators – all with this common love of racing.
What do you like about working at BIC? Running the Bahrain circuit since its inception has been a fantastic thing. When it was first built, people were skeptical and wondered what would happen to it on the 362 days after the big event. You don’t hear those comments anymore. In 2008 we ran over 460 events here, and there’s always something going on, from V8 races to charity events.
So the F1 has definitely been a good thing for Bahrain? It’s hard to argue against it. Look at the amount of exposure Bahrain gets out of it – there was a TV audience of over 500 million people last year, and people get to know about the island. Bernie Ecclestone once said, ‘The great thing about Bahrain is that nothing is too much trouble,’ because everyone is so friendly and welcoming. The economic impact is another thing: last year over US$560 million were brought into the country directly or indirectly as a result of the event.
Do you think the credit crunch will impact on this year’s event? It’s difficult to gauge at this stage, but so far ticket sales are up on last year, not vastly up, but up. I do think this year it’s more important than ever for corporates to get involved to demonstrate there’s confidence in the market.
Do you see the new Abu Dhabi circuit as a threat? It will impact, of course, because a lot of people will find it easier to travel from Dubai or Abu Dhabi to their own circuit. But it’s a positive too, as it will help to increase awareness of the sport in the region. There’s also still a massive amount of interest to be derived from Saudi Arabia, which is largely untapped. The fact that they work on Saturday and Sunday has been a problem, but this year we’ve introduced a roaming Friday ticket, which gives people access to all areas for just one day.
What are the highlights at this year’s event? On the track, we’ll be seeing the Kinetic Energy Replacement system in action for the first time. The idea is that when you put on your brake you store a lot of energy, and then that charge can be released back into the car to give you a boost of power. They’ve also changed the aerodynamics of the cars, which should add up to a much better year in terms of action.
Off track, there’s an amazing display of F1 cars, never seen as a complete collection before – among them some very rare ones worth millions of dollars – and so much in the way of entertainment, from bands to magicians. But the bottom line is that this is the biggest event of the year and just a great day out.