FORMULA 1 GRAND PRIX
There was a lot more happening off the track rather than on it, as visitors to the 2008 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix, branded as ‘Our Race’ by the hosts, discovered during the race weekend. BY
OUR RACE: These are the two words you’ll see everywhere during the race weekend.
56 MAY 2008
icture this: a spaghetti western movie set. An almost eerie quiet lurks around. A red and white flag flutters with an audible calm. Men stand around in anticipation, each with their own hidden, secret agendas; each in their respective battle gear. All of a sudden, a deafening sound and you’re surrounded by gunshots all around. Okay, perhaps not the exact action you would expect at an F1 Grand Prix, but, believe it or not, this was the setting for the 2008 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix. If this, the pure purr of the 800+ bhp V8 engines and the gearshifts that sound like a mob riot breaking out don’t get your adrenaline pumping, it sure is time for your annual health check up. The first thing that is provided for, as you enter the circuit, is a set of ear plugs. But if it’s your first time, at this Woodstock of motor sport (among 17 others), you aren’t going to need them. Even the cooing buzz in your ear two days later is more than welcome! But is it really worth the trouble and, most of all, the money? For TV viewers, it’s entertainment and it’s cheap. For people like us who like to get into the nitty-gritties of the sport it provides us with enough fodder to keep us ruminating until the next race; and it’s still cheap. But for the live audience present at the venue, the two hour race is only part of the experience. Remember it is a race ‘weekend’, and boy do they mean weekend. It’s nothing less than an event or a massive social gala or even a simple picnic. If you didn’t dig the western cowboy movie set-up then worry not, the FIA and the Kingdom of Bahrain have made every arrangement to make sure you find your space in the sea of fans. This is probably the reason why the FOM (Formula One Management), with the irrepressible Bernie Ecclestone at the helm, has turned this sport into one of the most glamorous businesses in the world. MAY 2008 57
FORMULA 1 GRAND PRIX LAP OF LUXURY: Bahrain’s Paddock Club has everything you could want, while watching a race that is.
everything else, you are served only the best by the best. Each dining lounge has their own chef with their unpronounceable delicacies. But the taste is as pure as heaven. Drifting!
CROWD PULLER: Every square inch of the track is packed on raceday.
THE PADDOCK CLUB
eople who care about being seen in the right place with the right people must gain access to this ultra exclusive Paddock Club. At a whopping $4,000 (over Rs 1,50,000) the tickets aren’t cheap. But it’s what gives you the complete ‘high’ end F1 experience. When you walk by R&B artist Macy Gray being denied entry purely due to her not having the exclusive Paddock Club tag on her wrist you know you’re really special for this weekend of your life. The security cannot be breached, but once you’re in the focus is on getting you your money’s worth. The Garden area, in the paddock club, is where only the best Champagne and wine flow but, moreover, can you really compare it to the fact that below the ground beneath your feet is the pit-garage of a certain Japanese team known as the Honda Formula One Racing Team. You look out the glass wall that faces the track and you see the starting grid. Ever wondered what the glass story above the pitgarages were, you guessed it right; it’s the Paddock Club. Here, you get a clear, bird’s eye view of one of the most characteristic and attractive features of F1. No, not the pit babes – although you do get to see them 58 MAY 2008
People who care about being seen in the right place with the right people must gain access to this ultra exclusive Paddock Club. At a whopping $ 4,000 (over Rs 1,50,000) the tickets aren’t cheap. But it’s what gives you the complete ‘high’ end F1 experience.
– but the pit stop that you get a view of from right above the car. A pit stop on TV lasts between six and nine seconds, but from this elite position it’s a blink of an eye. This is where you truly understand the efficiency with which these world class mechanics work. But wait, if this wasn’t enough, you also get access to the pit lane a mere hour before the race starts. This allows you to get a glimpse of how a car is set up, although you have to be really lucky to catch a driver strolling around. Oh, there is also the matter of food. Gourmet, anyone? Like
notch below, as far as race viewing positions go, is the Main Grandstand which faces the Paddock Club on the opposite side of the track. Initially, it’s hard to understand what it is that makes this the Main Grandstand. This you realise only after you have seen the start of the race. The feeling of watching the six lights go on and then off while the cars scream in unison is unparalleled. Also, you get to see the drivers line up for the opening ceremony and for the victory celebrations. While the Grandstand is about the quality of each moment, the other stands are all about the action. The real race and overtaking manoeuvres can be seen at the Turn One Grandstand and the Batelco Grandstand which are comparatively reasonable, with the Main Grandstand costing around $400 (a tad over Rs 15,000) and the other stands being around $150-200 cheaper. The cheapest tickets though are for the Victory Grandstand, setup for a view of the last corner of the circuit, going at under $100 (less than Rs 4000).
FLAGS AHOY: Pre-race manoeuvres at the track.
f you think this is like a cricket match where you get your ticket and walk into the stands, you have the completely wrong idea. The area as you enter is filled with original merchandise stalls of your favourite teams. Title sponsors Gulf Air added their touch to the race by providing an F1 car with a simulator. Not just this, but they also had a Boeing simulator with a trained instructor to aid you through the flight – impressive. A karting track has also been built here and you can compete against different fans from all over the globe. You can’t resist especially after you’ve just watched the most finely tuned machines on earth at their best. One thing that stands out though – as long as you aren’t a heart patient or pregnant – is the Hummer ride. This just cannot be missed. It’s a course built right behind the BIC (Bahrain International Circuit). This circuit has been designed to test the ultimate endurance of one of the toughest on road production vehicles. The H2s and H3s lined up, take you around a course which would just mean dead ends for people with the lesser cars. Driving any other car will never be cut it. They also have a training school with world class instructors where you’d all like to settle down with a Hummer to yourself. Each one to his own.
ventually you do realise that the race weekend is also about the race, especially for the two hours it is really on when you have fans glued to their klaxons or flags cheering on their favourite team, countryman, or just their favourite colour. But before we forget all about it, there is also some racing that takes place. Not just Formula One, but you also get a chance to see some of the legends of the recent past go head to head in the Speedcar races. You can also catch the F1 drivers of tomorrow in the V10, GP2 cars. These races are
Eventually you do realise that the race weekend is also about the race, especially for the two hours it is really on when you have fans glued to their klaxons or flags cheering on their favourite team, countryman, or just their favourite colour.
quite gripping with a few mistakes here and there and unbelievable overtaking manoeuvres adding colour to the contest. But there is something else about the real thing. It has to be said that the atmosphere created by the buzz of the reported 99,981 (substantially more than a tenth of the population of Bahrain) spectators glued on to just 22 cars is exhilarating. And the experience, of the cars battling it out right in front of you, takes a while to sink in. From the pit stops to the wheel to wheel battles, the events that are regulars during the race on TV take on a whole new dimension when viewed live at the circuit. Every little detail is seen and you don’t miss having replays unless you get distracted by the Suzuki Hayabusas and Harley Davidson V-Rods zipping up and down in case a driver needs a ride back from his crash site. This does get you thinking though about whether India will be ready to host an event as elaborate as this in just about two years. One sure does hope so, as this is an experience not to be missed. So if you still are an F1 virgin, put it on your list of things to do before you turn 30 or 40 or 50 or.... Satisfaction is guaranteed! [ All Sports Magazine was invited to the Bahrain Grand Prix by Gulf Air, the event sponsor. ]
BUTTON TO BUTTON: Jenson’s pitstop goes like clockwork for the Honda team. MAY 2008 59