x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Bahrain given green light for pre-season testing

Bahrain to host two pre-season F1 tests, but UAE circuit officials unhappy with Whitmarsh comments.

An aerial view the Bahrain International Circuit. Reuters
An aerial view the Bahrain International Circuit. Reuters

DUBAI // The Bahrain International Circuit will host two Formula One pre-season tests next February after beating off competition from Yas Marina Circuit and Dubai Autodrome.

Following months of discussions, the Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) signed an agreement in Mokpo ahead of Sunday’s Korean Grand Prix. It will be the first time F1 has tested in the Middle East.

Richard Cregan, chief executive of Yas Marina, said the decision was “good for the region”, despite the UAE capital missing out on the opportunity to welcome the high-profile F1 circus ahead of a new season when interest and intrigue is at its peak.

“Bahrain had put their name forward as a host venue, as did we and I am sure they will do a great job,” Cregan said. “In some ways it makes our life easier because we have so many events around that time of year. We said to the teams that we were willing to host, but we are just as delighted for our friends at Bahrain.”

Paul Velasco, the communications officer at Dubai Autodrome, echoed Cregan’s sentiments.“We applaud the decision to bring F1 testing to the region,” he said. “We are sure the Bahrain International Circuit will provide a good testing venue and it shows that the region plays an important role in F1.”

The first test of the 2014 season will take place in Jerez, Spain, in late January before the teams travel to the Middle East for two tests running on February 19-22 and February 27 to March 2. The season is scheduled to start in Melbourne, Australia, on March 14-16.

Martin Whitmarsh, the president of Fota, said the decision to run at Bahrain was down to the Kingdom offering the best venue for testing. Whitmarsh is also team principal of McLaren-Mercedes, who are co-owned by Bahrain’s Mumtalakat holdings company.

“The idea is that you get into some temperature testing and, if you look at the Middle East, Abu Dhabi is not a good circuit for testing, and Dubai is a bit Mickey Mouse,” he said. “The best circuit for testing out there is Bahrain, so that is why we are going there.”

Whitmarsh’s comments about Dubai were not greeted warmly, with Cregan saying they were “out of line” and Velasco claiming the Englishman has never been to the circuit.

“To my knowledge Martin Whitmarsh has never raced at or visited Dubai Autodrome,” Velasco said. “But if he thinks it is a ‘Mickey Mouse’ circuit, I would suggest he speaks to Romain Grosjean or Sergio Perez, both of whom have raced here and had nothing but good things to say about the challenge of our circuit.”

Grosjean, Lotus’s French driver, and Perez, the Mexican driver now employed at McLaren, raced at the Autodrome during the 2008 GP2 Asia Series.

Winter testing in the Middle East has been on the agenda since the start of the year when teams travelled to Barcelona but struggled to maximise their pre-season track time due to torrential rains. The warm weather on offer in the Middle East will provide a better indication of car performance ahead of the season’s opening races in Australia and Malaysia.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae