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Bahrain ready to start season in style 07 Mar 2006

Honda's Jenson Button signs autographs as part of the Yalla Bahrain festivities. © BIC/KHP Consulting Honda's Rubens Barrichello chats with journalists. © BIC/KHP Consulting A valentine's date for Honda's Jenson Button at the Yalla Bahrain festival. © BIC/KHP Consulting His Highness the Crown Prince of Bahrain meets artist Jill Bradley © BIC/KHP Consulting Fireworks display at the Yalla Bahrain festival © BIC/KHP Consulting

This weekend the expectant eyes of around 400 million Formula One fans will turn towards Bahrain. Playing host to the season opener brings with it the unique opportunity for a nation to show the rest of the world its own distinct blend of heritage, passion and creativity. Bahrain has grasped that opportunity with both hands, putting on an unrivalled programme of pre-race events, devised to show the country at its very best

“We are very proud to welcome the Formula One Community to the Kingdom of Bahrain for the third time,” said His Highness Shaikh Salman Bin Hamad Al Khalifa Crown Prince And Commander-In-Chief Of The Bahrain Defence Force. “Just 23 months after we staged the first Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix, it is our great honour to be host of the opening race of the 2006 FIA Formula One World Championship season.

“This year more than ever, the Grand Prix presents a fantastic opportunity for the Kingdom of Bahrain to stand among the elite nations of the world who host international sporting events of this magnitude. Among our many guests are world leaders, global companies and decision makers. To the thousands of visiting race fans and the millions watching around the world, the Grand Prix allows us to showcase the beauty, culture and vibrant community of Bahrain - this year as never before.

“Welcome, then, to the 2006 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix. We look forward to a spectacular, successful and safe Grand Prix weekend for all.”

Such is the warmth of the welcome given to the Formula One community by Bahrain that pre-race festivities actually began back on February 13, with an opening Gala for the Motorsport Art Exhibition, hosted by the Crown Prince and attended by photography heavyweight Michel Comte and Honda Racing’s Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button.

Next up was the Manama Carnival on February 24, featuring a parade of the Bahrain International Circuit’s own cars and a performance of breathtaking aerobatics by the Red Bull Stunt Planes. For those attending the carnival, some of Manama’s top hotels hosted barbeques on the Corniche and after dark an extravagant musical fireworks display enchanted the crowd.

The lengths Bahrain has gone to have impressed Bernie Ecclestone: “Bahrain should serve as a model for all nations seeking to host a Grand Prix now and in the future. On an operational level we were proud to award the Bahrain International Circuit the FIA trophy for the most helpful and best-organized race of 2004 and each year the team gets better. More important still, however, is the way that the whole of Bahrain - from the Royal family to the government and into the community - has pulled together to make the Grand Prix more than just a sporting event.”

As part of the race weekend on March 10, the crowds will be entertained by one of the latest cultural phenomena, Parkour - or free-running. An expert team of ‘runners’ will use nothing but their skill and dexterity to leap between the landmarks of Bahrain's capital city of Manama, and those of the Bahrain International Circuit. The creators of Parkour describe their sport as ‘L'art du deplacement’, or the art of uninterrupted forward motion over, under, around and through one's environment.

After Saturday’s eagerly-awaited qualifying session - the first with 2006’s new knock-out format - a spectacular street parade featuring floats, fire dancers, jugglers and 500 schoolchildren in traditional Bahraini and Formula One-inspired costumes will celebrate Bahrain and Formula One in harmony. The parade will make its way through central Manama towards a purpose-built stadium, where the evening’s entertainment will include world-renowned and favourite Arabic musicians in concert, culminating in a sensational fireworks display to herald the coming race.

On race day, the hard work of entertaining will continue at the Bahrain International Circuit. With all luxury hospitality having sold out months ago, the VIP Paddock Club is set to serve 2300 lobsters, 1.4 tons of fish, 750 kilos of prawns and 1500 cakes to its distinguished guests.

So that just leaves it to the Formula One teams and drivers to play their part, and we are then guaranteed a truly unforgettable start to the new season.