I have no doubt that the 11th Grand Prix was the best Formula One race we have witnessed so far in Bahrain. I believe that I have the right to comment on this because I am one of the few who had a chance to witness all the 11 races from very close quarters.
My Bahrain Grand Prix journey started on 04/04/04 when my friend and I paid BD100 each from our own pockets to be seated in the Main Grandstand right above the starting grid of Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello of Ferrari. That race was won by Schumacher who beat his teammate by a mere 1.2 seconds, but the total number of people who attended the first-ever Grand Prix in the Middle East was less than 5,000 despite many corporates supporting the inaugural event. It was indeed a very disappointing turnout and I remember encouraging many of my Bahraini colleagues to be part of this great event, but it fell on deaf ears. Also it was disappointing for those watching from the University and Victory grandstands as they could only watch what was happening in front of them and could not follow the action elsewhere as there were no giant screens available at the stands then. However, racing experts were absolutely delighted and had great comments about the Bahrain circuit.
In 2005 and 2006, I was able to witness the race from closer quarters as I was one of the track marshals (Turn 11) and for the next eight years (except for 2011 when the Bahrain Grand Prix was cancelled) I was watching the final race from the Victory Grandstand with complimentary tickets I or one of my Bahraini colleagues won from GPIC for the “suggestions” we put. Over those years (2007-2014) the Bahrain Grand Prix improved by leaps and bounds and popularity brought many visitors from other Gulf countries and Europe, especially last year when the 10th anniversary was celebrated with great pomp and colour and the first night race that was indeed another feather in the cap of Bahrain. For us Indians it was a matter of great pride that the great Sachin Tendulkar was one of the royal guests.
We also witnessed the emergence of a young British driver, Lewis Hamilton, in 2007, almost winning the championship in his very first year – missing out by one point. However he won the championship the very next year. Two years later a German driver, Sebastian Vettel, and a new champion team, Red Bull, emerged, both of them going on to win four championships on the trot (2010-2013). The change in the engine from the V8 to the four stroke V6 witnessed a slight reduction in speed with Hamilton, Rosberg and Team Mercedes ending the dominance of Vettel and Red Bull in 2014. The dominance of Hamilton and Mercedes is continuing into the 2015 season. It is that change in engine which is responsible for more than five seconds slower fastest lap (1:36.311 by Raikkonen in 2015 as against 1:31.252 by Schumacher in 2004).
This year I thought I would give myself a break and was thinking of watching the race on TV when I called up my friend Thomas around 1pm regarding a spam mail I got from him and the next question he asked me was, Joshua are you not going for the Grand Prix this time? I was half way through my answer when he told me he had two tickets for the Main Grandstand and that I could have them and 55 minutes later my friend Arun and I were witnessing the Spark! and Team Power Stilts followed by that thrilling race.
The 10th anniversary was a grand success, but the 2015 edition has surpassed all those records with more than 32,000 people turning out this year. The race was fantastic and very tactical planning helped Hamilton to win the race and increase his lead and congrats to Kimi Raikkonen for his perseverance and for pipping Rosberg in the penultimate lap. Botas missed the podium but he too had an excellent race.
Hamilton is one of my favourite drivers, my all-time favourite has been the late Ayrton Senna. The programmes outside the track were a real sellout with Pitbull, the Team Power Stilts, the Cossack Dance troupe, Spark!, Najwa Karam, Abdulla Rowaishid all enthralling the young and old with their out of the world performances.
I would be doing injustice if I do not congratulate the BIC team and the traffic department for the immaculate planning and control, which allowed smooth flow of traffic and parking. We had left the P9 parking at exactly 8pm and were at the Indian Club Toastmasters by 8.35pm in time to be voted the best table topic commentator and the topic given to me was “the Bahrain Grand Prix supports the economy – a reality or a myth”.
Yes, Bahrain has indeed become the “home of motorsport in the Middle East” and as His Majesty King Hamad announced during the race, the F1 has put Bahrain on the global map. That is of course supporting Bahrain’s economy and reputation. So let us salute the Ruling Family, especially His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the Crown Prince, for making this a reality. I always believe that vision without passion and action is futile.
Bahrain became the hub for motorsport in the Middle East and let the whole world know about this beautiful kingdom, indeed a crowning glory. Nothing comes by chance and you can’t achieve success overnight. The seeds were sown during the Crown Prince’s chance meeting with Sir Jackie Stewart in 1997 which led to the construction of the BIC. But what impressed me so much was that the Crown Prince is interested in all sports and he knew so much about the great Sachin Tendulkar than a normal Indian cricket fan, which in turn led to Sachin’s private visit to Bahrain becoming an official visit in 2014.
Congratulations and all the best for the future of Bahrain Grand Prix and to Bahrain which has become my home away from home during the last 18 years so much so that I continue to enjoy my stay here, even though I lost my dream job two years ago.
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