The Grand Prix is one of the mega-events putting Bahrain on the map. We visit the track on a quiet day and marvel at the sites
You don’t have to be a Formula 1 ace, or a drag strip daredevil to make your way onto the prestigious Bahrain Grand Prix track. While the race itself dominates the facilities across the April weekend, and the various incarnations of the circuit are in use throughout the year, there are still plenty of opportunities to catch a glimpse of the superstar F1 lifestyle. As you rock up to the circuit, prepare to be overwhelmed. The grandstand as you walk in is immense, while the VIP tower in the distance dwarves the buildings around it. After a short wait in the welcome tent, where you can browse various motoring memorabilia and take a look at both an F1 car and a touring saloon, your transportation arrives. You pile into a minibus where your guide will tell you a little about the facilities, to whet your appetite.
Your first stop is the same VIP tower that dominated the horizon when you arrived. This luxurious building is home to several floors of offices, as well as the royal suites reserved for the monarchy. The swanky pad allows the royal family and their entourage to watch the race in absolute comfort, with amazing views of the track. While the royal abode is off limits, you’ll be given a taste of this VIP experience as you are whisked up to the eighth floor – a rooftop lounge with panoramic views that take in 85 per cent of the circuit. Shaded from the sun and covered with sprawling couches, this luxury viewpoint is the best place in Bahrain to see the race from. While you stand atop this fantastic building, you’ll be regaled with facts about the complex. Completed in 2004, the circuit is one of the fastest ever constructed and cost Bahrain’s coffers the princely sum of US$150million. The track can be used in six different connotations and includes an ATV off-road track and a go-karting academy. While you continue to be bombarded with information, you descend the tower, walking out through the plush surroundings and back onto the bus.
As you head for your next destination, you drive past the state-of-the-art garages and the control rooms that make up the paddock and pit area, each pointed out to you by your expert guide. Within a few minutes, you roll to a stop outside the media centre. Heading indoors you walk into a room of television screens and complex camera controls, and as the guide switches on the 38 monitors you can see every part of the complex at the flick of a switch. You can sit in the Chief Marshall’s chair and see where the important decisions are made on race day. Track controls are located in here and, to squeals of delight from other F1 enthusiasts in the group, you’ll be able to see the lights on the track being controlled.
After a few minutes, the screens will be switched off, and you’ll work your way back outside to the bus. On a day where the circuit is not in use, you’ll then be taken for a lap of the track. Sadly, it’s not in a Formula 1 car, but as you roar towards the first corner in the minibus, the (relatively) slow speed is still more than enough to have you grinning from ear to ear. As the driver hurtles around the track he talks you through the intricacies of the circuit, pointing out the grandstands, the podium, the tricky parts of the course and even some of the speeds that the professionals will be reaching. To put it all in perspective, it will take you well over five minutes to complete a full lap – the F1 cars whiz around in 90 seconds.
As the bus slews across the tarmac, you’ll gain a newfound appreciation for the skill and courage of these drivers as they not only rocket around the tight hairpins and sweeping bends, but do so with 20 other cars doing everything possible to slip past them and leave them eating the proverbial (and in Bahrain’s case, literal) dust.
As you complete the lap, you slow down to a more sedate crawl and head back to the welcome tent. You are dropped off and left to wander around the exhibits some more, not to mention picking up some garb at the merchandise store. With a head spinning from the scale of the place, and the money involved in building these award-winning facilities, you walk outside to head back to town. As you exit the paddock, you notice that some bright spark has handily left information on how to buy grandstand seats for the next race meet on a strategically- placed table near the door. With your hastily bought ‘pit-crew’ jacket tucked under your arm, you’ll be rummaging through your wallet for your credit card.
Tours of the Bahrain International Circuit cost BD5 per person. A lap of the track is included if the circuit is not used for race meets. Tickets can be bought by contacting the circuit on (17 450 000). A taxi to the circuit will cost you approximately BD15 (one way).