As the Bahrain International Circuit prepares to host the first race of the 2010 Grand Prix season, chief executive Martin Whitaker speaks to Liz O’Reilly about what’s in store.
How many people attended last year’s Grand Prix?
The 2009 race was attended by over 95,000 people over three days. The recession certainly had an impact on attendance figures while the weather accounted for many who felt the conditions were just too hot. As a direct result we have campaigned to bring the race forward and I am delighted at the support that we have received from Formula One, in particular Bernie Ecclestone.
How is the BIC preparing to host the first race of the season?
As always the team at BIC start working on the next Grand Prix not long after the completion of the previous race. With the first race come a number of unique opportunities all underpinned by the fact that Bahrain will be the focal point of the sporting and motorsport world on March 14 next year. Our policy this year, as it has been for the last few, is to encourage the local business, tourism and retail community to take ownership of the Grand Prix and use the global and regional exposure that the race brings. Our work includes close cooperation with key organisations such as the Economic Development Board, Mumtalakat, the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce, the hoteliers, tour operators, Gulf Air and other carriers. As the next few months unfold we will be unveiling many plans for the event which this year will celebrate the start of the 60th Anniversary of Formula One.
How will this differ from other races, I imagine it will be even more exciting but at a better time being that bit cooler?
Clearly the date in mid-March will make a big difference.
Differentiation is a key word in BIC’s dictionary and we always set out to make the race entertaining for everyone – hardened motorsport fans or those who want to attend to experience the varied entertainment or just be seen at BIC during the race weekend.
Every year we try and do something different and the 2009 event was no exception with the massive Bahrain flag made up of 1600 individual flags in the ‘field of flags’ and the track painting depicting Bahrain in Arabic script and arabesque calligraphy. Look out for many new and exciting initiatives in 2010.
How is the BIC working with the Tourism Sector to promote the Grand Prix?
One of the key areas where we can improve the overall awareness of the Kingdom is by using the Grand Prix as a showcase event and I am delighted that we have the support of the Tourism Sector team in making this happen. The global exposure that the Grand Prix gets is phenomenal and can never be achieved by advertising alone. Therefore, it is vitally important that we work together with Tourism (and the business sector) to make the event a ‘global shop window’ for the Kingdom of Bahrain. There are many areas where we are cooperating and sharing ideas and I think in the coming weeks and months we will all begin to see the benefits of using the race in such a proactive way. Certainly the use of the internet is crucial to building greater exposure for the diverse and rich culture and heritage of Bahrain. It is also a valuable tool to expose the variety of sporting and leisure pursuits people can become involved in. Many countries around the world stage Formula One Grands Prix to maximise the exposure of the country or the region; there is absolutely no reason why we need to be different.
Are any of the teams scheduled to come here for pre-season practice in 2010?
The Formula One testing rules and regulations change annually. We are working with the sport’s governing body and the teams to try and encourage them to consider the obvious benefits of testing in Bahrain prior to the start of the season. Out of the fifty or so days that Formula One teams have tested in Bahrain over the last few years they have been able to run throughout the day from dawn to dusk with little or no interruption at constant temperatures. During this entire time we have only lost two days to inclement weather.
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