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Bahrain developing celebrity following 13 Mar 2006

Michael Johnson (USA) on the grid.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Bahrain Grand Prix, Race, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain, 12 March 2006

The Bahrain Grand Prix may only have been on the Formula One calendar for three years, but it is already proving as big a draw with celebrities as many of the more established European races. We caught up with just a few of the famous faces at this year’s event…

Four times Olympic gold medallist Michael Johnson has a feel for speed, though usually on two feet, not four wheels. That changed this weekend when he sampled close to 400bhp of Holden V8 power in the Pro-Celebrity race. “I think that my form is decent and it should be a lot of fun," he said ahead of his debut. "But at the end of the day I think that we are all dealing with our own challenge rather than challenging anybody else. Other than that I am here to hang out and I enjoy watching the Grand Prix.”

Bahrain may be the home of motorsport in the Middle East, but Monaco remains the Crown Jewel in the Formula One calendar. The two came together this weekend as His Highness Prince Albert of Monaco paid tribute to his royal counterpart by visiting the Bahrain paddock. “It is always interesting to see how organizational structures are somewhere else,” he said. “I have to congratulate the local authorities for the perfect execution of this event.”

Male supermodel Tyson Beckford, voted one of the world’s 50 most beautiful individuals by People magazine, brought his unique fashion sense to the Bahrain race with arguably the coolest outfit of the weekend. Formula One racing is more accustomed to seeing his female counterparts - the likes of Naomi Campbell, Heidi Klum and Jodie Kidd - so what brought Beckford to the paddock? “I was in Monaco last year - my first race - and I was so excited that I promised myself to get more races, my schedule permitting,” he said. “I was told that the Bahrain race is one of the hottest F1 events of the year, so my mind was made up fast. So here I am again - with no regrets!”

Jay Kay’s racing ambitions are an open secret in the music world, so it was no surprise to see the Jamiroquai front man grabbing the chance to compete in Bahrain’s Pro-Celebrity event. “The experience of driving a car around a desert track was incredible,” he enthused. “Look at me - have you ever seen me happier? And boy, was I stunned when approaching the circuit as it suddenly came out of nowhere, like a mirage. If they invite me again next year, watch out, I’ll be here.”

Former German Tennis ace Boris Becker is no stranger to Formula One racing, but it was still a surprise to see him in the Bahrain paddock rather than his usual haunts of the Nurburgring, Hockenheim and Monza. “I love Formula One, I have shown this by my many visits,” he said. “And now that I am somewhat a part of it by doing VIP interviews for German broadcaster Premiere, it is even more fun!”