The first F1 circuit in the Middle East
Plans for a Grand Prix circuit in the Gulf State were fuelled at the beginning of the 21st century by a highly motivated Bernie Ecclestone. He wanted to take Formula 1 to the Middle East and Asia. These were not only emerging markets, but here he found people who were willing to pay the ever-increasing cost of organising an F1 race.
One of those people was Sheik Salman Bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Crown Prince of Bahrain and boss of the local ANWB. Under his leadership, the construction of the circuit became a matter of national importance. However, the huge complex was not finished in time for the first race in 2004. Ecclestone, however, insisted that the Formula 1 would pass and so it happened.
Hermann Tilke leaves his mark on Formula 1
The German track designer had made a name for himself with the creation of Sepang in 1999 and from 2004 Tilke would play an increasingly important role in Formula 1. Between 2004 and 2014, he delivered ten brand new Grand Prix circuits and the Bahrain International Circuit was the first in the series.
The Bahrain circuit is not considered his best work, but it has stood the test of time. The three long straights make it easy to overtake, with the action taking place mainly in Turn 1 and Turn 4. The undulating second sector also gives the track some character with some fast corners combinations.
The Bahrain Grand Prix over the years
The first GP in 2004 was won by, how could it be otherwise, Michael Schumacher. In his last championship year, Ferrari was probably more dominant than ever, and this was well reflected in Bahrain. Ferrari has always done well here.
After Schumacher, Felipe Massa, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel also won this race for the Maranello team. Vettel is therefore record holder with four victories, two with Red Bull Racing and two with Ferrari. Alonso and Lewis Hamilton both have three victories.
The Bahrain Grand Prix could not take place once. That was in 2011 when the Arab Spring caused unrest in many Middle Eastern countries. Protests were beaten down by the Sheikh with a hard hand and Ecclestone had to reluctantly cancel the race. In 2012, however, the F1 Circus was back in business as usual, and the sport was severely criticised. In 2020, F1 visited the circuit twice. This included the Sakhir Grand Prix which used the outer loop.
During the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix, one of Formula 1's most famous crashes occurred. Romain Grosjean hit the barrier at high speed on the opening lap. The impact of his Haas created a massive fireball. The race was immediately red-flagged by Michael Masi and the Formula 1 world held their breath. Miraculously, Grosjean escaped with only burns to his hands. The Frenchman was forced to miss the final two races of the season, and therefore the end of his F1 career but returned to action in Indycar.