It’s an honour to sit down for a business talk with the man behind something like the Bahrain Grand Prix spectacle. Shaikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Crown Prince, CEO of Bahrain International Circuit (BIC), tells the story of how this spectacle evolved and what it truly is today in the sense of business.
Ten years ago, we had the vision for the BIC to be a venue to set new standards in motorsport, not just in Formula 1, which could thrive in a sustainable manner. It would be used to promote Bahrain internationally and use it as a catalyst for the future growth of the economy and the foundation for a string of innovative investments.
Based on that vision, over the last ten years, the BIC has become one of the most commercially successful races on the Formula 1 calendar. In total the gross economic boost to the Kingdom’s businesses and traders since 2004 has reached more than US$1.3 billion.
We have established a sustainable business, based on growing the sport in the region and encouraging participation. We now have one of the best karting tracks in the world, created local racing series which continue to grow, harnessed and grown the popularity of drag racing and attracted other major international series such as the WEC.
Based on that vision, over the last ten years, the BIC has become one of the most commercially successful races on the Formula 1 calendar.
Alongside this, we have developed a local team of experts which provides support to international motorsport venues looking to establish themselves – this really reflects our position as the oldest of the ‘new’ Grand Prix venues and offers a blueprint for others.
Gulf Air has been our main sponsor since we first began in 2004 and we are, of course, hugely thankful for their support over the last 10 years. Gulf Air is the national carrier of the Kingdom of Bahrain and BIC is “The Home of Motorsport in the Middle East”.
Together, we act as the country’s ambassadors to the rest of the world. We both showcase the very best Bahrain has to offer to a global audience, and our relationship goes far beyond the Grand Prix.
A hospitable spot
Hospitality has always proved popular, especially for local businesses, but increasingly international firms too. For Formula 1, in addition to the Paddock Club, we have 47 VIP Hospitality Suites in the Main and Oasis Grandstands, which always prove hugely popular. In particular, the Oasis Complex has lounges that are ideal for entertaining large groups and have a capacity of up to 100 guests each.
The location is supreme for race fans as they have the opportunity to view most of the action on the desert part of the track. The VIP Paddock Club suites above the Pit Garages, offer red carpet treatment to corporate guests of the teams and provide unrivalled conference facilities.
In 2014, to mark the 10 year anniversary, we are having a night race, and that is a new challenge and a new frontier. The lighting is by far the biggest development we have ever undertaken at the BIC since the circuit was first built and there can be no better way for us to mark our tenth anniversary in F1 by demonstrating our long-term commitment to the sport through this significant investment.
Aside from that, we want to look to the next ten years of the BIC – more Formula 1 night races, even bigger crowds, more local and international events to encourage participation – all things which will enable us to continue to expand our facilities and cement our position as the “Home of Motorsport in the Middle East”.
My view – shared by many other fans I’m sure – is that we are in for an incredibly exciting season. With the numerous rule changes that have come into play, it will certainly be unpredictable, which is what the fans want. I also think that it is good to see Formula 1 changing with the times with the introduction of the new engines.
The sport’s expansion to the Middle East can only be good for us and we have excellent relationships with race organisers all over the region. We must remember that for us – and, of course, others in the region – It is important to ensure that we are seen as more than just Formula 1 race organisers – we see our role as encouraging the growth of motorsport on every level. Our regional championships, drag racing and the go-karting track should not be forgotten to mention. These are all things which help support the growth of the sport in the region. This is crucial for us in building a sustainable business. Having more races elsewhere in the region will only strengthen that.
I think the new rule changes will have a big difference in terms of the spectacle, but I’m always interested in new ways of engaging the fans. It is a challenge of any major sport to ensure that the fans feel close to those participating, so I would welcome more initiatives which can support that.
I think that the increased interest, in this new era for Formula 1 will, without doubt, support the commercial success of the whole industry. We have seen some pretty good new sponsors come in this year for some of the teams and at the BIC we are fortunate to have a solid and growing sponsorship base. It all bodes pretty well for the future and from our point of view, we hope that having a night race will attract a new breed of spectator both on TV and at the track.
For us, we have to make sure that the BIC is about more than Formula 1, in order to ensure we have a long-term sustainable business. Formula 1 sits at the heart of it, but our growing events calendar and the events we host outside of motor racing are a crucial element of what we do. Of course, it’s about even bigger crowds, but it’s also important to ensure more local and international events coming to us and encouraging participation in the sport. That’s really the reason why we see ourselves as “The Home of Motorsport in the Middle East”.