If you like sunshine, sand and the sea, then you will love Bahrain. It is the only island state in the Arab world and has plenty of all three.
Visiting the race is a mix of two very contrasting experiences. On the one hand, there is Bahrain’s bustling capital Manama, situated in the north east corner of the island. The name translates literally to mean ‘sleeping place’, but don’t be misled: it’s a hub of bright lights, bars and exotic souqs.
On the other hand, there’s the Sakhir Circuit. The track is first-rate, with some of the best facilities in the world, but it’s situated in the middle of the desert. As the wind picks up each evening and the early sunset takes hold, the place has a magical ‘Arabian Nights’ feel to it.
Did you know?
Bahrain was the location of the first ever oil well in the Gulf.
Bahrain International Airport is well connected, both inside the Middle East and around the world. The airport is situated on an island to the north of Manama and is joined to the city by two large bridges.
Gulf Air, the national carrier - and title sponsor of the race - is partly state-owned, so they offer very competitive fares to the region. Bus, taxi and hire car are your choices for getting around Bahrain. Airport buses operate to and from all the main hotels, as do circuit shuttles. Sakhir is a 40-minute drive south of Manama.
Given the extreme temperatures (over 35 degrees Celsius during the summer) in the middle of the day, you will likely appreciate the shade of a grandstand. The main stands are located on the start-finish straight and are divided into three price tiers. A general admission ticket is still a good way to see all the circuit, but remember to take a sun hat and to drink plenty of water.
When getting about by road in Bahrain, don’t rely too heavily on the maps because many of the roads in the south of the island are unmarked. The Sakhir circuit is, of course, clearly signposted.
Where to go?
The place to go out is Manama, a very happening city and one that is growing rapidly. There is something for everyone: authentic Bahraini cuisine, clubs and souqs, as well as western-style discos and shopping malls.
The beautiful Al-Faith Mosque is a ‘must-see’ in Manama and, if you fancy a drive to the south of the island, go in search of the Tree of Life. It’s a loan tree in the middle of the desert that is kept alive by an underwater spring.
“While you're at the race, make sure you visit some of the exotic souqs,” adds Button. “There's some amazing stuff in them!”
Where to stay?
There is accommodation to suit all budgets in Manama. There are youth hostels and cheap hotels at the lower end of the scale, going through to mid-range three-star hotels and a healthy choice of luxurious five-star hotels.
Nowhere in the Gulf is far from Bahrain, with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) its closest neighbours. Many Formula One personnel take the short flight to Dubai too.
There are an increasing number of race meetings at Sakhir, so keep an eye out for other events taking place at the track.
Until the arrival of Sakhir, offshore power boating was the established form of motorsport in the Middle East. Crews practice in the Gulf most days and you can usually hear their 2,000-horsepower monsters long before you see them.