Formula One arrives in Bahrain

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> The Formula One world's attention turns to the Bahrain International Circuit with formal opening of the first such race track in the Arab world.

updated: February 25, 2007 10:05 IST
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Sakhir, Bahrain:

The Formula One world's attention turned to the Bahrain International Circuit on Wednesday as the race track, the first of its kind in the Arab world, was formally opened by the ruler of Bahrain, His Majesty the King Shaikh Bin Hamad Isa Al Khalifa. As the sport's media descended on the venue in Sakhir, 25 kilometres south of the capital Manama, the historic occasion was marked at the launch ceremony by a modern Grand Prix car, the 2003 Williams FW25 driven by current test driver Marc Gene, lapping the 5.411 kilometres track for the first time. The circuit has been built in just 485 days at a cost of $150 million US dollars and, in the process, one million cubic metres of rock have been blasted out of the desert - the end result has certainly impressed some of the sport's biggest names ahead of the inaugural Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix on April 4th. Wednesday March the 17th proved to be the day everyone involved with the Bahrain International Circuit has been waiting for. "It's a tremendous achievement. I think it is the result of many hundreds, if not thousands, of people's man hours being put into a project that has really radically transformed not only people's expectations but what is possible in a small country like Bahrain. But I think the region, in specifically the Middle East, we are very proud to have a world-class venue and even more proud that we are going to have world-class event in the coming few weeks," said His Highness Prince Shaikh Salman Bin Hamad Isa Al Khalifa. Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone agreed. “Well, it is very important because I have been trying to do something in the Middle East for a long time," said Bernie Ecclestone, President of F.O.M. Marc Gene, the current BMW-Williams F1 test driver, and Jean Alesi, the ever-popular French veteran who won the Montreal Grand Prix in 1995 and now drives in the German DTM Touring Car Championship then took to the track for an historic showdown The 'Speed Challenge', an exhibition time trial between the 2003 Williams FW25 and the Saudia-sponsored Williams FW07, represented the opportunity to race a F1 car around the B.I.C. for the first time ever. The real highlight of Alesi's day was driving a Mercedes Benz 196 Streamliner (as driven by Juan Manuel Fangio and Alberto Ascari) around Bahrain. Meanwhile, the media were hard at work sending out pictures, photographs and enough words to fills thousands of column inches regarding F1's newest recruit. This B.I.C. can hold 70,000 spectators (seating capacity 45,000) and they will be kept informed of the progress of the race not only by large viewing screens, but by almost 1,000 public address speakers. Then there's the communications, timekeeping and signal lighting. In all, there are 18 separate specialist electronic systems in and around the circuit. Technologically speaking, this venue is the undoubtedly the most sophisticated on the Formula One calendar. German track designer Herman Tilke believed his creation reflected the local environment. "The design challenge first of all was that we are here in the desert and we are here in an Arabic country. This is a big challenge because we cannot do something that's already present in Europe," said Herman Tilke, Bahrain International Circuit designer. Some of the sport's biggest names such as David Coulthard and Rubens Barrichello also stated their delight with the circuit ahead of the inaugural Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix. "Well, as the Middle East has provided a lot of our power source over the fast few years for vehicles, and I think it would be great to have another venue on the calendar," said David Coulthard, McLaren-Mercedes Formula One driver. "We need to expand our modern world, let's this put it this way, so I am very happy. I think it is good for Formula One and good for us," said Rubens Barrichello, Ferrari Formula One driver. Bahrain will always keep sight of its rich culture and history, but what the country has now shown is that the focus is the future and it is a thoroughly modern destination. When those red lights go out on Sunday April 4th, Bahrain will be firmly on the Formula One map. (AP)