x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Bahrain may offer lessons on post-Grand Prix success

Five and a half years ago, the Formula One circus was rolling into Bahrain for the first Grand Prix in the Gulf.

Five and a half years ago, the Formula One circus was rolling into Bahrain for the first Grand Prix in the Gulf. While the German driver Michael Schumacher triumphed on the track - and went on to take the title - perhaps the bigger victor was the island nation, which thanks to the Grand Prix was projected on to television screens around the globe and reaped a rich financial reward.

But once the teams left the country and headed for the next race in Italy, Bahrain was left with challenges equal to those of staging the event itself - challenges that Abu Dhabi, too, will face in the aftermath of this Sunday's inaugural F1 race. Bahraini officials had to ensure that interest in Grand Prix racing was sustained, and that the circuit became part of the life of the island rather than something on which to run an international race once a year. "I don't think people really knew what to expect," said Martin Whitaker, the chief executive of the Bahrain International Circuit.

"When you start doing things, especially in a region where motor sport has not been on the calendar, you have to build from the base." The key, according to Mr Whitaker, has been to make the circuit as open as possible. A karting circuit was launched - just as one will be on Yas Island - as was a "welcome centre" at the circuit's entrance. And when races are held, entertainment is laid on to ensure events attract more than just diehard motorsport fans.

"People have to be able to bring their families and be entertained," Mr Whitaker said. "To educate people, you have to attract them to the circuit in the first place." There is also, he says, "a lot of community work". Last year 160 events were organised, including geography, science and environmental school trips to the circuit. Hosting a Grand Prix is as much about generating revenue as it is about generating interest, and so the education process has not just included the public, but the business community, too.

Last year the Bahrain event generated nearly US$600 million (Dh2.2bn) of revenue, according to Mr Whitaker, and he believes Abu Dhabi will also be successful in seeing a huge financial spin-off. In fact, he believes the UAE capital is already well on its way to having the kind of deeper understanding of how to generate revenue from the Grand Prix that took Bahrain a few years to develop. For example, he said the close involvement of major corporations, such as Abu Dhabi's Mubadala, indicated the capital knew how it could use the Grand Prix as a business event.

"There's a much greater understanding in Abu Dhabi and maybe they learnt a lot of that from us and others," Mr Whitaker said. @Email:dbardsley@thenational.ae