Last Sunday, I visited Bahrain as the tiny, oil-rich Gulf state hosted its 15th Formula One Grand Prix race at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir.
And what struck me as unique at this annual event is the fact that, besides being one of the rare night races, the Bahrain Grand Prix is a way of life and means a great deal to the people of this nation, both socially and economically.
On the sidelines of practice, qualifying and the main race, Formula One fans and non-fans alike are treated to a huge menu of entertainment on the three days of the race weekend, making it one of the most entertaining on the global circuit.
In what the organisers term as “engineered insanity”, the Bahrain Grand Prix’s “Fan Zone” creates family and fan entertainment that draws in huge numbers.
These attractions include “Fan Forums” - where Formula One drivers and celebrities make random appearances – and an “E-sports Challenge” that sees fans attempt to set the day’s quickest lap in a virtual race.
There’s also the “Pit Stop Challenge” where teams of fans battle to execute perfect wheel changes while a “Fitness Challenge” tests fans’ reactions, overall endurance and body composition.
Families also have over 20 other fun games other than the racing-centric entertainment.
With over 90,000 fans having trooped to Manama for Sunday’s race, Bahrain continues to jealously protect its enviable reputation as one of the finest examples of sports hospitality.
Each year, a different entertainment menu is served out to fans, with last weekend’s show-stopper acts featuring globally acclaimed DJs and music producers, Dutchman Martin Garrix and Norwegian Kygo (Kyrre Gorvell-Dahll).
To encourage family packages, the Bahrain International Circuit offers children between seven and 10 years of age a chance to meet top F1 drivers and also to be on the grid during the competition’s opening ceremony.
With four-day tickets at the Main Grandstand selling for as much as 150 Bahraini Dinar (Sh39,000), the organisers offer up to 30 percent discount to fans purchasing the tickets a year in advance with several other incentives arranged for children and university students.
At the Bahrain International Airport, a special immigration section for Formula One teams, media and fans ensures smooth entry with anyone travelling to Manama for the annual race also granted a free visa.
Bahraini royalty, led by Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, oversee operations on race weekend, appreciating the fact that the annual race has a positive impact on the kingdom’s sustainable development.
Besides creating jobs, the Bahrain Grand Prix is a huge tourist attraction and also lures international companies to invest in Bahrain.
It’s more than merely the 57 laps on the 5.412-kilometre Bahrain International Circuit racing track.
With the huge income from the annual race, coupled with oil exports that account for 70 percent of the government’s revenue, Bahrain is able to make its citizens comfortable. Very comfortable.
For instance, in 2015, Bahrain’s Ministry of Labour and Social Development started offering a “meat subsidy” – a fixed amount paid out each month to eligible families to purchase meat and other basics, based on the number of family members.
This week, the Bahraini government will deposit a total of 6,887,921 Dinars (about Sh1.8 billion) in the bank accounts of families that qualify for the subsidy to spend in the next quarter.
Mouth-watering stuff indeed!