Making Tracks - The Bahrain Edition
Note from the author:
Welcome to the first edition of the new motorsport travel guide - Making Tracks. These guides aim to be both informative and interesting to anyone who's thinking about making a motorsport trip. The plan is to write many more for different circuits around the world, and each guide will evolve with subsequent trips as well as tips from other contributors. Hope you enjoy!
One day after looking at my bank balance, and thinking ‘sod it,’ I decided that it would be a good idea to fly out to Bahrain for the 2017 season finale of the FIA World Endurance Championship. I was a bit nervous at first, particularly as I was a woman, on my own and this was the furthest I’d travelled completely solo. However, apart from one small misadventure in the hotel bar, it all went brilliantly. Bahrain is a great place, the circuit is fantastic, and I hope this guide will help you if you're planning to go!
Bahrain International Circuit
Location: Sakhir, Bahrain
Time zone: GMT+3.00 Arabian Standard Time
Currency: Bahraini Dinar (BHD)
Located in the Persian Gulf between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom of Bahrain is a small island country with a population of just over 1 million. At just 780 km² in size, it’s the third smallest country in Asia, which makes it ideal for getting around and exploring.
The country’s capital city and home of Bahrain’s International Airport, is Manama, situated in the northeast of the country. Unfortunately, I didn’t venture into the city, but it’s got plenty of hotels to choose from and is a great place to use as a base for your trip - for instance from the Crowne Plaza hotel in the Diplomatic Area to the Bahrain International Circuit is about 25 minutes by car.
If you do plan on driving, be aware that the Bahrainis drive on the right-hand side of the road, and are not afraid to go for even the smallest gaps in traffic. Also, using lanes and your indicators correctly appears to be optional at times. You will be overtaken, undertaken and cut up, so be prepared for that! There's a zero-tolerance policy to drink-driving, so if you’re pulled over and have the minutest amount of alcohol in your system, there will be trouble. They’re pretty hot on speeding too - watch out for cameras!
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The paddock at BIC is one of the nicest paddocks I’ve been to, not your usual grey group of structures. Garages, team units and hospitality alike are housed in light sandy coloured buildings adorned with white canvas canopies. Each hospitality unit has its own cushioned seating outside so you can lounge to your heart's content (with the owner's permission of course!)
Down the length of the paddock are seating areas under palm trees (a delightful and shady place to work if you can find some wifi. Though you might have to get used to the chattering of sparrows.) When evening falls the trees light up with dozens of little white fairy lights - really gives the place some magic. If you’re lucky enough to be media, part of a team or a VIP, and WEC makes a return to BIC, then make the effort to get the track on Wednesday evening - the paddock becomes the venue for a welcome BBQ, a great way to kick off the weekend.
Sun, speed and a spectacle, what more do you want? There are performers and food vendors galore in the fan village, plus rides for the kids. (And, no sign of Titan the Robot!) Need a new piece of merch to show your team spirit? The welcome centre has got you covered, loads to choose from, from WEC and F1, even special 6 Hours of Bahrain kit! Very snazzy.
Going back to the food, I don’t know if the vendors are permanent, but if they are, I can thoroughly recommend the BoxIt rice and noodle stand, the ice lollies and the frozen yoghurt. All really tasty and at usual track prices - it’s around 3BHD for a main food item, roughly £6.
Staff are helpful, friendly and most speak English, though you might struggle to hear them over whatever is on track at the time! Don’t be afraid to ask however, they will generally do their utmost to help you.
If you've got the option, go and join a pit walk. You get a great view down the start/finish straight from the end of the pitlane, as well as an appreciation for that iconic Al Sakhir Tower (it looks cool in pictures, better in person!) For the WEC one, we had plenty of time to explore the pit lane, the drivers were all out signing whatever was put in front of them (within reason). However, be aware - there's not much shelter in the pit lane, so slather up with suncream and think about wearing a hat!
Designed by Hermann Tilke and opened in 2004, the Bahrain International Circuit has hosted some prestigious race events, including the first Formula 1 Grand Prix held in the Middle East. It has featured on the FIA WEC calendar since the series began in 2012 and has been the venue for the season finale since 2015.
The first corner is a favourite for overtaking, so you’re sure to see some great action here, especially at the start, be it rolling or standing. Plus, several good-sized straights provide a stage for good old fashioned sprints, plenty of places have been won or lost down that long start/finish straight. Twists and turns abound in the middle section of the circuit, as the cars fly through a mixture of tight hairpins and more sweeping bends. An onboard lap gives a better idea of the track - join the #67 Ford GT in this one:
The main grandstand is a great place to watch from, and is a must for the race start! It’s got a good view of the start/finish straight, first corner and a bit of the infield. Plus, depending on where along the structure you’re sat, you can see into the pit boxes of different teams. If you don’t know where to watch from, this is a good starting point.
The paddock/infield grandstand offers a brilliant view of the twisty section of the track - particularly at night. You can see a good portion of tarmac, and it looks gorgeous under the floodlights, with accent lighting and fountains adding to the scenery. It’s ideal for watching your favourite teams battle it out in the bends! There are plenty more grandstands around the track, though these may not be open for your event!
- Bring sun cream and plenty of it. It's probably wise to bring a hat too!
- This applies more to the ladies than the men, but think seriously about what you wear. While it's not imperative to dress conservatively at the track, it’s worth thinking about who you might offend - check up on Bahraini culture before you go. I found this site to be particularly helpful - though there's more advice for girls than guys!
- There a plenty of hotels to choose from in Manama, it's a great place to base yourself in, and the commute to the track is fine. Don't be afraid to get a car and go exploring. With Bahrain being an oil country, fuel is unbelievably cheap.
- Ladies, if you’re going alone, make sure you have the balls to tell people that you’re okay on your own - this is apparently an odd concept and groups of men may invite you to join them! If you’re not comfortable, then stick with room service!
If you aren’t sure about venturing to the Middle East, Bahrain is a great place to dip your toe in. The people are friendly, there’s plenty of recognisable Western brands (if you’re in need of a Big Mac or a skinny caramel macchiato with twelve pumps of syrup) and the circuit venue knows how to put on a great race weekend. Sadly, FIA WEC won't be returning to BIC during the 2018/19 Super Season, but I’d like to see them back here.
Let me know in the comments if you've been to, or get out to Bahrain, I'd love to hear about your experiences!
Header photo credit: WEC/Adrenal Media