Exclusive Q&A with BIC Chairman 31 Mar 2005
As Bahrain has the oldest motor club in the Middle East, established in 1952, it seemed only natural when last year the country hosted the first Grand Prix in the Arab world since Morocco in 1958. Ahead of the 2005 event, Sheik Fawaz bin Mohammed Al Khalifa, Bahrains Minister of Youth and Sport, and Chairman of the Bahrain International Circuit (BIC), spoke to formula1.com about the synergies and goals the Kingdom was aiming for when deciding to become a part of the Formula One calendar.
Q: With a population of just 650,000, one would not expect Bahrain to have a huge motorsport fan base. What was the intention when first working out a proposal to host a Formula One race?
When in 1999 Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa introduced the plan of having a Formula One race in Bahrain to Bernie Ecclestone our main intention was to promote motor racing in the whole region. And I don't mean primarily the speed factor involved, but the whole mind set that is behind that sport: the striving for excellence in many aspects such as technical advancement; the physical fitness; and having changed a sport that was heavily European dominated into the best global sport in existence with a huge entertainment potential.
Q: With the construction of its state-of-the-art circuit, which is the envy of many other venues, Bahrain made a bold case for its long-term involvement in Formula One racing. Are you satisfied with the outcome so far?
Perfectly satisfied. Our focus was on building the leading circuit of the region, to not only host Formula One, but all kinds of racing events. And the best example for our strive for excellence was the award for the best organized Formula One race throughout 2004, which showed, that newcomers have the potential to show their capabilities in organizing the perfect race weekend.
Q: Much has been said about the synergies and other benefits that Bahrain wants to gain from its involvement in Formula One racing. Are you pleased with what has been achieved in this respect?
We are more than satisfied. Formula One has placed Bahrain on the international map. With F1s high-profile individuals and media travelling to Manama City, Bahrain is able to show to the rest of the world that we can compete with other international destinations. The global trend to secondary and even third residences will see that we will become more attractive as an ex-patriot and tourist destination.
Q: The location of the race track in an almost untouched desert zone raised quite a number of eyebrows last year. What was the intention behind that?
With choosing the circuit location in the south of the country, which indeed is almost a desert zone, the investments in this particular part rose immensely. At the moment we are planning several multi-billion dollar projects there. The ultra-modern race track was a sort of ignition to regional development that will transform that part of the country into a third millennium environment.
Q: With so much enthusiasm for Formula One is there a particular favourite team or driver here in Bahrain?
I am a fan of the organization of Formula One - the creation of a global enterprise that over the years has lost nothing of its lustre. Personally my sympathy is with the underdogs of F1. I like to see new faces coming from new countries moving up the ladder of the paddock hierarchy.