Sheikh Salman, CEO of BIC: “Formula 1 needs heroes”

It’s always an absolute pleasure to interact with Sheikh Salman, CEO of Bahrain International Circuit, so this time we at Paddock magazine decided to sit down with him for a more in-depth interview about high-end motorsport in Bahrain, the business side of it all, the mentioned racing circuit and what’s out there to look for in 2017 and beyond.

 

Thank you for this opportunity. Let’s start with Bahrain’s racing sector – how is it doing at the moment?

In terms of our calendar of events, I think we are busier than we have ever been, and, by all means, that’s certainly a good thing. I have a suspicion that many people outside the Kingdom don’t realise that our track is active all year round; with the lighting system, that now includes our summer.

In the last twelve months we have hosted over 350 individual events, which is quite an achievement for the team at the BIC.

The old European races have such an important part to play in this sport that it should not lose sight of that. At the same time, it’s a World Championship and the calendar should also reflect that.

Sheikh Salman

Has the image of the Bahrain Grand Prix change over the years?

Since our first race in 2004, our role has evolved quite significantly. Back then we were very much reliant on the support from many people from across the industry, given that we were relatively new to Formula 1 – how it operates behind the scenes, how things should be perfected in a technical sense and just how it all works in the end, business-wise.

As time goes on and our experience has built, I am pleased that we are now able to be even more involved with the sport by helping new promoters establish their races, based on all the work our team has done throughout the years. The support we have provided races such as Baku is a good example of that.

I also think that when we changed to the night race in 2014, that was a huge landmark for us. Being one of just three night or twilight races differentiates you, especially for the TV viewership.

Could you elaborate on the economic impact of this race?

The Grand Prix itself brings in over 100 million dollars a year into the economy (EY report 2015 race) and the indirect impact is even greater. Since 2004, independent reports have shown that the Formula 1 race has delivered a billion dollars to the Bahrain economy.

In addition to that, total tourism into Bahrain has increased by 150 % since the first race in 2004, and that’s really something. This shows the power and attraction of Formula 1 as a sport and the wider initiatives of the government to promote the Kingdom and a business and tourism destination.

You want drivers to be heroes, and heroes are born from incredible feats.

Sheikh Salman, CEO of BIC

We at Paddock magazine had a survey for motorsport business professionals about current Formula 1 circuits, and BIC landed 2nd place in the rankings! Simply put, what’s your secret? 

First of all, it is an honour to be recognised as such: it reflects the hard work of the whole team here at the BIC. We have been lucky that we’ve been able to learn from some of the very best circuits and promoters. I think it is important to say that we aren’t trying to replicate the experience of the historic European races and it’s equally important to reflect our character as a nation when people visit. People talk about the famous Bahraini hospitality and we aim to deliver that for all our guests. That experience as a welcome guest isn’t just at the track, but from the moment you touch down at the airport to the second you depart, and everything in-between.

Can other circuits learn from BIC? Do they?

They do. I’m particularly proud of the experience we have built up here at the BIC and glad that we were able to share that with various promoters across the world.

Formula 1 venues are a fairly collaborative bunch, we’re all keen on discussing ideas and we are just happy to contribute to that, whether it be through our marshalling expertise or other race and operational areas.

In the last twelve months we have hosted over 350 individual events, which is quite an achievement for the team at the BIC.

Baku was the newest addition to the calendar. Where, in your opinion, Formula 1 could or should go next?

Clearly with the new Formula 1 ownership, we would expect a bigger presence in the US and Liberty are ideally placed to help grow the sport in that part of the world.

I do think it’s important that we get the right balance on the calendar in terms of geography and heritage. The old European races have such an important part to play in this sport that it should not lose sight of that. At the same time, it’s a World Championship and the calendar should also reflect that.

What are you mostly looking forward to in terms of changes that the new management of Formula 1 will or might implement? 

Well, it is still early stages, so we will have to see what new ideas and initiatives are on the table. I must say, however, that Liberty Media is making all the right choices early on in terms of the direction of travel so I expect there are exciting times ahead.

How do you see the sport evolving in the global popularity sense?

There are major opportunities which can be embraced, especially given how the consumer and spectator has evolved in recent years. Yes, better use of digital media is one element that everyone talks about, but we should also consider other ways in which we can attract the next generation of fans. Different geographies; different and new types of access to Formula 1; understanding the way in which fans consume the sport. These are all areas of opportunity, and we as motorsport professionals are all responsible to explore them if we want the sport to evolve.

What are you most excited about in terms of the actual racing this year? 

For me, it has to be about the challenge of the new cars. At first sight they are big machines with a phenomenal new level of power attached to them. The pinnacle of motorsport has to be about the physical challenge for the driver and how they manage the power which gets me most excited. After all, you want drivers to be heroes, and heroes are born from incredible feats.




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