JANUARY 18, 2007

More about Abu Dhabi

The emergence of Abu Dhabi as a candidate for a World Championship event should be taken very seriously, despite the fact that Bahrain currently enjoys the exclusive right to host a Formula 1 race in the Middle East and North Africa. What is not clear is how long that deal lasts. Traditionally, the Formula One company does deals for seven years but these often include the possibility of a break after five years. Bahrain held its first race in 2004 and so the fifth event will be next year and that could mean that there is a chance for a race in Abu Dhabi as early as 2009 - if there is enough money involved to attract the attention of dealmaker Bernie Ecclestone. The Abu Dhabi government says it is investing $40bn in the Yas Island development and thus the cost of an annual F1 race is realtively unimportant given that the aim is to build up a huge tourist industry on the island. Abu Dhabi might also be able to attract more local spectators to the event as it is the highest per capita city in the world, unlike Bahrain where wealth is much more restricted. The development is all part of the plan to wean the economy off its dependence on oil.

Abu Dhabi started its own airline, Etihad Airways, in 2003 in an effort to emulate its neighbour and rival Dubai as a tourist destination and is currently spending huge amounts of money to expand the Abu Dhabi International Airport.

For Ecclestone such projects are a gift as he looks for ways to expand F1's revenues in the future with a new generation of high-paying races to follow in the footsteps of Bahrain and Shanghai. He already has a deal in place with South Korea and is working on government-backed projects in various other places, notably India, Greece and Singapore. These will probably replace some of the first generation events outside Europe, such as Malaysia which have not yet lived up to local expectations.

Bahrain may not have been a success in financial terms, with very small crowds, but the publicity generated has been good for the country. Bahrain's plans to be a holiday destination have long lagged behind Dubai and Abu Dhabi is now embarked on an aggressive programme to catch up and rival both.

We expect an announcement of a race in Abu Dhabi in 2009 within the next few weeks.