MARCH 6, 2006
Filling the grandstands in Bahrain
There is always much positive PR flowing out of Bahrain at this time of day but that does not mean that the locals are paying much attention to the race, beyond making money from the racing people when they come to town.
Hotel space is anyway limited as the country has only around 7000 hotel rooms (9000 beds) although these numbers are increasing all the time. The hotel prices, however, are among the most inflated anywhere in the world. The bills we are paying seem much the same as last year, despite suggestions from the organisers than things would be moderated.
For the first two Grands Prix in Bahrain spectators have been flown in for the day from Dubai or driven across the causeway that links Bahrain with Saudia Arabia. The average number of visitors using the causeway is 30,000 a day but this rose to 64,000 during last year's Grand Prix while 10,000 people were granted special Grand Prix visas on arrival at Bahrain last year. Given that the F1 circus is around 4000 people this would indicate spectator numbers of around 40,000. The Gulf Daily News, however, estimates that last year that there were 34,000 spectators and given that there were visa scams involving hundreds of people, mainly young women, who used the race to get into Bahrain, it seems that a number of people used the weekend to visit Bahrain and enjoy the party atmosphere but did not go to the race. These two facts are probably related to Bahrain's apparently thriving sex industry.
Whatever the case, the 50,000 grandstand seats have certainly never seemed to be full and this suggests that not many of the 700,000 residents of Bahrain are going to the races. This is not a big surprise given that the country has an average annual income of $20,000. This figure is obviously skewed by the fact that there are a number of super-rich people in the country and the average man in the street is not in a position to pay the $330 that is asked for a grandstand seat.
Ticket sales this year are reportedly up but it is worth noting that the circuit has just announced plans to offer Bahrain University students free three-day passes to this year's race. The move is designed to encourage more of Bahrain's young people to attend the event and to build up an audience for the future.
And, of course, it will help to make the grandstands look a little more full.
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