The chief executive of the Bahrain International Circuit reports the paddock is already a hive of activity ahead of the much-debated race on April 22.
'Everything is ready and in place' says Bahrain F1 chief
SHANGHAI // Doubts continue to linger regarding the safe hosting of next week's Bahrain Grand Prix, but the chief executive of the Bahrain International Circuit said preparations are progressing unperturbed ahead of the Formula One race.
The Gulf state is set to host the fourth round of the world championship from April 19 to 22 with teams expected to start arriving immediately after this Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai.
It will be the first time F1 has raced in Bahrain since March 2010 after last year's event was cancelled by the country's crown prince following anti-government protests.
Sea freights, shipped out six weeks before a race weekend, have arrived and construction of F1's exclusive hospitality lounge is underway, said Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa, the chief executive at the BIC, which hosted the Middle East's first Formula One race in 2004.
"This is our eighth year hosting a race and everything is ready and in place," Al Khalifa said. "Things are arriving on a daily basis – customs forms needing signed, requests for more chairs that kind of thing, normal stuff.
"The Paddock Club infrastructure has turned up, tents are being set-up and the Pirelli tent is here already, so everything is set, we're ready and it's just a case of making the final touches."
The majority of team equipment will not arrive in Bahrain until Monday, after the race in China.
It has been reported that some of the 12 racing marques have contingency plans in the event of the Bahrain race facing a last minute cancellation by the FIA, world motorsports governing body, and Bernie Ecclestone, the commercial rights owner of F1.
Al Khalifa, however, said he is in "regular contact" with Ecclestone and his management team, and said he is certain the grand prix will go ahead.
"We were first to raise our hands last year and say the race is not going to happen and that we had to focus on stabilising the country," he said.
"The FIA and Bernie have never shown any doubts about our race. In fact, even since November, they have always said the race is going to happen and that they will listen to the people in Bahrain."
Tickets went on sale in February and Al Khalifa said sales are "going great".
The venue's corporate boxes have sold out and sales figures have surpassed that of the 2010 race, he said.
The capacity of the BIC is 34,000. Al Khalifa said he would be pleased with 100,000 spectators over the four days and hopes for between 28,000-30,000 for Sunday's race, which will be followed by a music performance by the American electro-pop group LMFAO.
"On the Sunday, I will stand up in the race tower and look out across the circuit," Al Khalifa said. "It is something I always do and if I see the Victory Stand full and the other main stands full, I feel it will have been a success. There is a bigger picture this year and that can't be forgotten."
When asked about recent calls by prominent British motorsports figures for the FIA to rethink their decision in Bahrain, Al Khalifa acknowledged the concerns but quickly dismissed them.
"I do see there is fear, but I just wish such people would listen to those who have the information - maybe not us, because we as a circuit are perhaps not perceived as an objective voice, but there are other people who know the region and know the situation and they are saying that this race should go ahead."