Jenson Button reports from Bahrain 07 Jan 2004
Towards the end of 2003, Jenson Button took up an invitation from Formula 1 Magazine to visit the new Bahrain International Circuit, currently under construction ahead of the Kingdom's inaugural Grand Prix, which will take place on April 4 this year. In return, the BAR driver filed an in-depth report on his experiences and impressions of the new venue. The following is a short extract from that report:
"It was fascinating to see the track in the throes of being built. It was totally manic. To be honest, with the race only five months away I expected it to be almost finished. But I was wrong; it was still a dusty building site. Imagine a sandpit full of Tonka toys, and you get the picture.
"There are more than 2,000 people working on the site, all rushing around, some on their feet, others in diggers and lorries. According to Tilke GmbH, who are building the track (who did the new Hockenheim and Malaysia before this), it is 3.5 percent ahead of schedule. That will give them a finish date of the beginning of March, exactly one month before the race.
"The track is adjacent to Bahrain's only university near the town of Jebel Al-Dukhan. It's the highest point of Bahrain and, for the anoraks among you, it's a stone's throw from the first ever oil well in the Middle East. Not a lot of people know that it was Bahrain who first discovered oil in the region, not Saudi Arabia. We paid a quick visit to the oil well en route to the track and it's hardly a grand design, merely a single shaft pump in the middle of nowhere. From small acorns...
"The location of the track was one of three potential sites put forward when Bahrain first committed to the race. Hermann Tilke, boss of Tilke GmbH, chose this location because of the undulations in the land, which would make it easier to build a track with character. There are lots of blind crests and downhill braking areas, which should make it interesting from a driver's point of view and should create some overtaking opportunities.
"As you'd expect in this part of the world, there is sand everywhere, but there are no sand traps surrounding the track because the run-off areas are all tarmac. A lot of people have expressed worries about sand being blown onto the track during the race weekend, making the track very slippery, but I don't think it will be as bad as people think. The topography near to the track is very rocky (requiring 3,000 controlled explosions before Tilke's men could get started) and they are planting a lot of indigenous vegetation nearby to hold the surface together.
"To counteract any potential problems from sand, Tilke's men have worked endlessly on trying to produce the grippiest track surface in the world. They have shipped in granite from Wales to mix with the asphalt, which they say will create the most sophisticated and durable asphalt in the world. It will most likely be very hard on the tyres, so it could cause some interest in the race as teams struggle to make their tyres last the distance. I think overtaking could be quite hard because, off the racing line, it will be very slippy, just like in Hungary where it's incredibly dusty."
Jenson Button's full report from Bahrain can be found exclusively in the January edition of Formula 1 Magazine, available now.