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Great to be in Bahrain say teams 31 Mar 2004

Sauber Petronas test driver Neel Jani (SUI)launched the build-up to April's inaugural Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix. The 20 year-old Swiss reached speeds of just under 300 kph in his Sauber Petronas C22 Formula One car as he easily broke the speed limit on King Faisal Highway in front of a mesmerised crowd of 20,000 fans. This was the first F1 car demonstration in the Middle East. Sauber Visit Bahrain, Bahrain, 19 February 2004.

An air of enthusiasm is already filtering through the paddock at the Bahrain International Circuit as the Formula One teams arrive and begin their preparations ahead of this weekend’s race.

"We are all very impressed with our first sight of the new circuit. The facilities are fantastic and the people of Bahrain very friendly. The circuit is the new dimension of Formula One," said Sauber’s Team Manager Walter Totschnig.

Sauber were one of the first teams to arrive in the capital Manama. The Swiss squad are no strangers to the Kingdom, having been the first team to run a car in the Gulf during the ‘F1 Fever’ event on the King Faisal Highway, staged earlier this year to promote the Grand Prix.

The first garage in the pit lane is reserved for World Champions Ferrari and setting up on Wednesday was Miodrag Kotur, Logistics Manager for the Italian team. "First of all the weather is different, it is not as hot as we expected,” he said. “What has really hit us is how fast everything has developed. The track was nowhere near ready when I was here last, now it is fantastic. It has been said that Bahrain wanted to have the best and most beautiful track. Now when I see it, it is the best."

Along the pit lane at Jordan, Chief Mechanic Andy Stevenson was preparing the cars that will carry the Bahrain-sponsored Message of Humanitarianism during the Grand Prix. "The track is absolutely fantastic - everything that they have achieved here compared to other circuits in the world is brilliant,” he said. “People are so friendly and professional. We have been given all the help we need. The working conditions are really great. And the Main Grandstand is a sight to see!"

Jordan driver Giorgio Pantano added, "This will be an interesting race for everyone. The first turn is a very difficult one and it will interesting to see how all the cars get round on the first lap. The circuit is beautiful and the people in Bahrain are so friendly. "

With the circuit having only officially opened on March 17, there has been a huge push to get the venue fully prepared for this weekend’s Grand Prix, as shown in the remarkable contrast between the track today and that just four weeks ago.

At the circuit on Wednesday was HE Shaikh Fawaz Bin Mohammed Al Khalifa, Chairman of the Bahrain International Circuit. "Preparations are in hand and all the teams are in place,” he said. “Team mechanics, technicians and some of the drivers have arrived and have started preparing their garages. The atmosphere is electric and the circuit is very rapidly being transformed into a venue fit for a round of the World Championship. The tremendous effort everyone put in can now be seen."