It has been a long wait for Bahrainis including BIC chief executive Sheikh Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa who has been painstakingly working hard for the last seven months in a build-up to the race. Here’s his conversation with NISHAD PADIYARATH

With just less than 60 days left for the Grand Prix to return to Bahrain International Circuit, its chief executive Sheikh Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa is all excited for the biggest sporting extravaganza in the small Gulf kingdom.

A wave of unrest in the country last year led to the cancellation of the 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix. This year’s race, scheduled to run from April 20 to 22 in Sakhir, is being marketed with the slogan “Unified: One nation in celebration”.

“Life has come back to normal, people are moving around without problem now,” Sheikh Salman said while speaking to Times of Oman.

“Have you seen any problems during your stay here?” he asked. “I don’t see an issue. Obviously, there are always concerns and the authorities are aware of that, but my main concern is that everybody is secure in an around the circuit and I am confident we can provide that,” he said.

It has been a long wait for Bahrainis including Sheikh Salman who has been painstakingly working hard for the last seven months in a build-up to the race. “This race is such an important race for Bahrainis,” Sheikh Salman said almost five-times during the course of the conversation. “Whenever we meet a local or even a taxi driver around the first thing they would ask us is when we are coming up with the next race. Everyone wants us to host this one and we cannot let it go this time,” said the soft-spoken CEO.

The Formula One Championship which at one time would start-off from Bahrain has become an important part of its economy. “The economic impact of the grand prix runs into the millions of dollars and it ties us to the world in that we – this small island of Bahrain – are part of a very unique group and really become a world player with this race. So, as well as the benefits it brings to the country, we hope it can unify for the well-being of the kingdom,” he pointed out.

The cost of building a facility that would set new standards in motorsport amounted to approximately US$150million, but the return on that investment has been many-fold to the Kingdom as a whole and even the wider Middle East.

Bahrain was due to open the 2011 season before protests in the country forced the race to be postponed and then cancelled which cost the national economy nearly US$500 million.
Interestingly, in 2005, the Bahrain Grand Prix had generated print media coverage to the value of US$43million, of which US$12.4million was within Bahrain itself. For 2006, coverage across the Middle East and North Africa leapt by 780%, with a total media value and global airtime total exceeding that of the entire 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy.

In 2007, the total economic impact on the Kingdom of Bahrain during the three-day Formula One race weekend totalled a staggering US$580million.
“When you get ready to host the biggest sporting championship and then you come to know it is not going to take place how will you feel?” he asked with a twinge.
“We cater to around 300,000 viewers across the globe every year so it shows how important this race is for us and we are confident this time around we will host it in a grand way.

Asked about the favourites this year for the race, a hard-core fan of McLaren team, Sheikh Salman said the championship will be ‘tricky’ this time. “It is not going to be easy like last time. I am sure the drivers have to work little harder to prove themselves because it is going to be a tricky race,” he said.
Speaking about the race, he had this to say: “I just don’t want to exaggerate further,” Sheikh Salman said. “But this is an opportunity for us to show the world that we are at our best again. This is our chance and we just have to be ready on time. This is such an important race for us,” he added.

This interview was originally published in 2012.

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