JANUARY 30, 2007

Face-saving in the Middle East

Bahrain has extended its contract to host Formula 1 racing, possibly until 2019. The country was the first to embrace the sport and has enjoyed an exclusive deal to host a Grand Prix in the Gulf region for the last few years but now rivals are popping up and in the next few days there will be confirmation that Abu Dhabi will be hosting a Grand Prix from 2009 onwards. Bahrain was not very happy with that news but has countered by extending a non-exclusive contract way into the future, to underline the commitment to F1 and to support the planned growth of the Sakhir development as a hub for motorsport and automotive activities in the region. Abu Dhabi and Dubai are both embracing the same concept with their circuits and theme parks, but Bahrain clearly wants to remain as the first and the most serious. The Bahrain track cost $150m to build and while the locals have made much of the value of the revenue generated by the three Grands Prix to date, the grandstands are still not full when the F1 racers come to town. That can change in the years ahead and with the development of land around the circuit as an automotive industry centre the project can still be successful, even if Abu Dhabi has bought its way onto the F1 bandwagon.