x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Bahrain Grand Prix goes off without disruption

Through all the worries the Gulf kingdom's Formula One race went ahead with no issues and more than a few smiles.

The stands were far from full but those in attendance appreciated the show the teams put on at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
The stands were far from full but those in attendance appreciated the show the teams put on at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

For a race billed as "UniF1ed", it was appropriate that the Bahrain Grand Prix went ahead without disruption at Bahrain International Circuit.

The Gulf kingdom's continued civil unrest resulted in uncertainty regarding the hosting of Sunday's race, with organisers earlier expressing concerns the protests may harm ticket sales.

With some stands empty and the grandstand no more than half full by the time the 24 cars completed their formation lap, it proved a valid concern.

Organisers reported the official attendance at 27,800. The capacity is 34,000.

"The people from Bahrain don't watch the race in the same way as they do in Europe," said Sheikh Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, the crown prince, in response to questions about empty seats.

"We have sold 27,000-28,000 tickets, which is almost our second best sale.

"They are all walking behind the main grandstands, looking at the art, watching the race on the screens, playing with their children in the tents."

Mishal Al Hellow, a 35-year-old Bahraini dressed in white kandura and attending his country's first race in two years, said he was proud to show his support, even if he had little interest in the race.

"It has been more than a year now that the whole of Bahrain has not celebrated that much together," he said, holding the hand of his son, Yousef, and walking through the F1 entertainment village.

"It is time to change the mood and give the people something to celebrate. And I wanted to bring the kids - this event is trying to restore people's mindsets and move forwards together towards a better Bahrain."

Police officers, having confiscated water, chewing gum and other materials from fans at the entry gates, scrutinised spectators as a mixture of cultures came together: a 15-year-old girl wrapped in a Venezuela flag, a tall Spanish male sporting a Real Madrid cape, a pair of women wearing grey hijabs and silver McLaren-Mercedes shirts.

"She supports Jenson and she supports Lewis," said Ahmed Yousuf, the father of Sara and Noora. "We have been to all the Bahrain grands prix and it's good that it's back because we were very disappointed last year didn't happen."

Last season's race was twice cancelled following the kingdom's civil uprising and as a Michael Jackson impersonator sang on stage, less than 2km away anti-government activists burnt tyres outside the hotel where many Formula One drivers had chosen to stay.

Several protests took place in nearby villages such as Sitra, Abu Saiba and Jidhafs, but despite the dark plume of smoke hanging in the air close to the circuit, there was no edge to proceedings and no tension in the entertainment village. It is understood a small group of female protesters were arrested inside the circuit after the race.

Spectators milled around merchandise tents, while others relaxed at food stalls.

"We heard that maybe the race would not be held this year, but we felt very optimistic that it should for this country and for the whole world," said Mazhar Uddin, who flew in especially from Pakistan and was attending with his son, Omer.

"Hopefully it will help in normalising things in Bahrain going forward," Omer said. "I live here, so I was able to view things from the ground. Occasionally there [were protests], but they are everywhere I guess - especially where we come from, we are used to this." The crown prince, who presented Sebastian Vettel with the winner's trophy, said he was "very proud of Bahrainis" after the controversial event passed without major trouble, adding he "didn't expect major dramas".

"I was confident that the people of Bahrain, by and large - and by a significant majority - wanted this event to happen, for the benefit it does for building bridges," he said. "Together they did it and they didn't care from which sect, or ethnicity or background.

"We are all very proud and for my country I am very pleased because it reminds people of the potential of what we can do when we are united."

 

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

 

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