Address: Bahrain International Circuit, PO Box 26381, Manama, Kingdom of Bahrain
PH: +973 1745 0000
Circuit type: Permanent road course
A top-class racing circuit located in the middle of sand dunes in near desert conditions doesn't seem very likely, yet this is precisely what the Bahrain International Circuit delivers.
As with many of the Gulf state motor racing venues, BIC owes its existence to royal connections; Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa is a motorsport enthusiast and honorary president of the Bahrain Motor Federation. Gaining an F1 race thus became a national objective and the construction of a suitable circuit was ordered, with funding from government-backed investment companies.
Hermann Tilke was brought on board to design a multi-layout facility and construction started in late 2002, in time for an inaugural grand prix in 2004. In truth, the circuit still needed some finishing touches (indeed, the organisers tried unsuccessfully to persuade Bernie Ecclestone to postpone the event until a year later) but these were in place when the GP circus made their second visit in 2005.
Tilke designed a circuit with several lengthy straights, connected by medium and slow speed sections, putting a premium on a setup with good traction. Fortunately, the track surface (imported at great expense from a quarry in Shropshire, England) has proved to be high in grip, boosted by efforts to spray the outer confines of the circuit with adhesive to keep the sand in place. Nevertheless, sweeping is a regular activity between track sessions.
The high ambient temperatures mean that spectating is confined to the main grandstand, which is designed to protect racegoers from the worst of the desert sun.
A variety of layouts have seen active use. Formula One has used both the Grand Prix and the Endurance variants, though the latter was only tried once in 2010 in what was deemed an unsuccessful attempt to spice up the show. The visiting V8 Supercars ran their Desert 400 race on the Paddock course for the first three years, before trying the Grand Prix circuit on the event's swansong in 2010. GP2 and the Porsche Supercup have been regulars on the GP undercard but rather unusually take advantage of the separate pit and paddock facilities usually used by the Inner loop.
For 2020, the coronavirus epidemic meant that the circuit got to host two Formula One races on consequtive weekends. The first, usuing the usual variant of the circuit, saw an enormous crash on lap one involving the Haas of Romain Grosjean, who went nosefirst into the barriers on the exit of Turn 3, with his car piercing the barriers and exploding into flames. Miraculously he emerged with injuries amounting to some burning to his hands, for which he was hospitalised for several days. Lengthy repairs were required to the barriers before the race, eventually won by Lewis Hamilton, could resume. A full FIA enquiry has been started to learn any lessons from the incident.
The second F1 event, run under the banner of the Sakhir Grand Prix, uses a new circuit variant - the 2.202 miles / 3.543 km Outer Circuit. This promises to produce a fast and furious lap and, while not resembling in the slightest an oval course (as some of the more excited reporting suggested when details were first announced) it is undoubtedly different. It will produce one of the shortest (in time) laps in F1 history and may well generate a very different kind of race. Likely to be a one-off, it nevertheless showcases F1's new-found desire to experiment with different ideas to spice up the show.
The circuit is located at Sakhir, in central western Bahrain, approximately half an hour from the capital, Manama. Bahrain International Airport boasts good connections inside the Middle East and around the world and can be found a further 10 minutes north of Manama, on an island joined to the city by two large bridges.
Bus, taxi and hire car are your choices for getting around Bahrain. Airport buses operate to and from all the main hotels, as do circuit shuttles.