For many years, Bahrain has been considered to be at the bottom of the list of “great grands prix” that currently have a place on the calendar. Following a great deal of political unrest in the kingdom in the wake of the Arab Spring, and the subsequent cancellation of the 2011 race, many expected the race to disappear from the sport altogether. Would it have been missed? Probably not. Mark Webber once said that racing at the Bahrain International Circuit was like driving around a car park. With dwindling attendances and a lack of atmosphere, it was hardly a race people relished.
So when the organizers confirmed that the 2014 race – the 10th Bahrain Grand Prix – would be a night race, many wrote it off as being another gimmick; a last roll of the dice to try and give the event some life. Singapore was at the time the only total night race in the sport, but it worked because of the location and the way that the race was promoted; the “Monaco of the east”, a glamorous event that attracted the rich and famous.
But Bahrain? That would not work as a night race, surely.
Instead, the doubters (including this writer) were proved very wrong last weekend. Not only did the on-track action give us a classic grand prix, but the off-track activity and atmosphere seemed to be a world away from what it used to be. Hundreds of floodlights were erected to illuminate the circuit, and this worked perfectly for the drivers who had no problems with visibility.
Around the circuit, the palm trees and run-off areas were draped in golden lights that came on as the sun went down, creating a quite beautiful overhead shot of the circuit.
It might seem quite odd, but the fact that we could not see the desert in the background went a long way to helping us to forget that this is essentially a grand prix in the middle of nowhere. The grandstands also appeared to be busier this year, with the main straight cheering and cooing at every bit of action before spilling out onto the circuit come the checkered flag.
Just as Qatar has proven to be a successful night race in Moto GP, Bahrain has pulled a similar trick in Formula 1. It was indeed the “celebration” that the organizers promised to mark the 10th anniversary of the first race, and it comes as little surprise that before the weekend had even finished, officials confirmed that they will be keeping the race as a night-time event from now on.
Formula 1’s foothold in Bahrain has never been stronger, and in 2015, we might actually earmark the race as being a highlight for the season ahead.