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Bahrain

Bahrain International Circuit

Bahrain International Circuit

2024 Calendar

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Bahrain International Circuit

Bahrain has been a pioneer for motor racing in the Middle East as it hosted the first grand prix to ever be held in the region. This was the result of a national objective for its Bahrain International Circuit to be built, where a chance encounter between triple Formula 1 world champion Jackie Stewart and Crown Prince of Bahrain Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa helped put the ideas into place. 

 

The two met on a Concorde flight to New York in 2000 where the royal was set to address the United Nations about his visions for Bahrain. As the Crown Prince boarded the plane, he noticed Stewart already sat down and later on he asked the world champion for a chat. Prince Salman shared his ideas about how to make Bahrain a global force and Stewart suggested hosting a grand prix as a method for gaining reputation. 

 

Stewart later proposed the idea to then F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone and despite initial concerns about hosting a race in the desert, the Bahrain GP was later signed for the 2004 season. This meant it fought off fierce competition from the likes of Egypt, Lebanon and United Arab Emirates who all wanted to host a grand prix.

 

So, construction of the circuit began in 2002 with the help of government-backed investment companies where it proved to be a great example of turning vast, empty land into a source of income. 

 

However, race organisers were initially concerned construction of the circuit would not be ready in time for the 2004 season. They tried to cancel the event, but these attempts were rebuffed by Ecclestone so the inaugural Bahrain GP went ahead as planned - despite the circuit not being fully completed. 

 

It nevertheless proved to be a landmark occasion with a vibrant crowd in attendance, who were there to watch Michael Schumacher win the opening Bahrain GP. It was quite a comfortable victory for that year’s world champion who led from pole in a dominant Ferrari 1-2, with BAR’s Jenson Button completing the podium 25 seconds behind Rubens Barrichello.

 

But, F1 was not the only series to visit Bahrain in 2004 as Schumacher’s fellow *future* seventime world champion Lewis Hamilton won the Bahrain Super Prix that was held for F3 cars. Other championships like GP2 (now known as F2), Porsche Supercup and V8 Supercars then visited the middle eastern country in the forthcoming years, while F1 continued to return.

 

A landmark occasion was celebrated in 2006 as Bahrain, in just its third year on the F1 calendar, hosted the season opener for the first time and it was a pretty significant weekend Attention was mostly on a young Fernando Alonso, who was the defending champion having ended Schumacher’s record-breaking run of five, consecutive titles.

 

But Schumacher had a better qualifying – which was debuting its new three session format – achieving pole in a Ferrari 1-2 with Alonso down in fourth. However, the Renault driver regained much of his deficit on lap one climbing up to second with just Schumacher ahead.

 

The Ferrari driver kept him just behind for much of the race, but Alonso’s second stint was three laps longer which resulted in him exiting the pit-lane alongside Schumacher. Alonso then edged ahead down the inside of Turn 1 which proved crucial for the Spaniard achieving his second, consecutive victory in Bahrain as Schumacher’s late pressure was not enough. 

 

In 2007 Bahrain International Circuit then became the first grand prix track to be given the honourable FIA Institute Centre of Excellence award for excellent safety, race marshal and medical facilities, as well as for high standards of technology required to maintain it all.

 

So by this point, Bahrain had quickly become an important presence within F1 and the world of motorsport as the circuit was a staple on many calendars across single-seater and closed cockpit racing. 

 

But a big change then came for the 2010 Bahrain GP, as F1 raced on its ‘Endurance’ layout to celebrate 60 years since the championship’s inaugural season. 

 

As a result the lap increased by 0.6 miles, while nine corners were added as drivers left the ‘Grand Prix’ layout shortly after Turn 4 and followed a very twisty sector two. It therefore caused qualifying laps to be slower as Sebastian Vettel’s pole time was 20.7 seconds off Jarno Trulli’s in 2009, but the race still proved to be a classic.

 

Alonso won on his Ferrari debut to clinch a then record-breaking third victory in the desert, while Schumacher marked his return to F1 with sixth in the Mercedes. However, the following year proved difficult for Bahrain as it was absent from the 2011 F1 calendar due to civil unrest which continued into 2012 but after long debate the grand prix that season still went ahead as planned.  

 

 

 For the 2012 Bahrain GP, F1 reverted back to the ‘Grand Prix’ layout which hadn’t been used since 2009 and Vettel won from pole in the fourth round of the season before sealing his third title later that year.

 

Simultaneously, 2012 also saw the inaugural running of the Six Hours of Bahrain as it made its debut on the World Endurance Championship calendar. It was WEC’s sixth round that year where the Audi car driven by Benoit Treluyer, Marcel Fassler and Andre Lotterer took the overall victory en route to winning that season’s championship.

 

It marked a new era for the circuit as it became a calendar regular for the top tier of both singleseater and endurance racing while F1 headed towards its turbo-hybrid era. This commenced a run of three consecutive victories in Bahrain for Mercedes where 2014 saw an incredible, race long battle between its drivers for the lead as winner Hamilton crossed the line just one second ahead of Nico Rosberg. 

 

Hamilton won again the following year before Rosberg eventually got the better of his teammate in 2016. F1 continued returning to the circuit as did WEC, where changes to the series caused Bahrain to increase its event from six to eight hours in 2019.

 

Toyota won the inaugural Eight Hours of Bahrain, not long before the world was forced into shutdown because of COVID-19. Finally, after long uncertainty, racing returned in the latter half of 2020 where Bahrain featured significantly on the much-changed F1 calendar due to the pandemic. 

 

It was one of three venues - after the Red Bull Ring and Silverstone - to host back-to-back rounds but that did not come without its criticism, as Hamilton called for the series to confront human rights issues in the countries it visits saying F1 “need to do more”.

 

Nevertheless, the country still hosted two races but under different names, as the first weekend was the ‘Bahrain GP’ which was followed by the ‘Sakhir GP’ - Sakhir being the desert area the circuit is in. And both races will go down in F1 folklore.

 

The 2020 Bahrain GP was thrown into the world’s spotlight because of Romain Grosjean’s highspeed crash on lap one. On the straight out of Turn 3, his Haas car clipped Daniil Kvyat’s AlphaTauri which caused Grosjean to go nose first into the crash barrier at an estimated force of 67G and as it happened, his car instantly caught fire having split in half.

 

Grosjean miraculously escaped from the fire - where he was in the flames for approximately 28 seconds - with just second-degree burns on his hands, while the halo was credited for saving his life as it absorbed the impact of the crash meaning the Frenchman’s head and torso was protected while going through the barrier. 

 

The Bahrain GP was subsequently restarted 80 minutes later where Hamilton then matched Vettel for four victories in the country, but the Briton was absent from the Sakhir GP a week later after testing positive for COVID-19. 

 

George Russell was therefore given his Mercedes debut, but a devastating late puncture denied him the race win so a maiden victory instead went to Sergio Perez despite the Mexican being last following a spin on lap one. 

 

Simultaneously, the Bahrain International Circuit also hosted back-to-back weekends in F2 during COVID-19 just as it did in 2021 for WEC due to Fuji dropping out because of travel restrictions in Japan. 

 

It was only in 2022 that the world and motor racing returned to normal yet Bahrain has continued to play a significant role in the calendars for F1, F2, F3, WEC and Porsche Carrera Cup Middle East.

 

In recent years, Hamilton has claimed a record-breaking fifth Bahrain GP victory while Toyota’s dominance in the desert continues with the WEC team having won the last seven races in Bahrain. 

 

The country has truly played a significant role for the growth of motorsport in its region with Bahrain being one of four Middle Eastern countries on the 2024 F1 calendar. In addition to that, Bahrain International Circuit is the only venue to hold five FIA certified Grade 1 track layouts so it comes as no surprise that the country has a long-term contract with F1 which runs until 2036.

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