This week, Bahrain celebrated its annual place in the global spotlight. The Bahrain Grand Prix — run since 2004 — is an opportunity to showcase the country, as millions of TV viewers turn their gaze on the Sakhir circuit.
According to Formula Money, the Bahrain race has the biggest local economic impact of any grand prix in the F1 calendar, at around $220m a race. This is more than double the average impact of any other race, and more than 2.2 billion people have either attended or watched the grand prix in the last five years.
So far, so good. The bad news is that the race has also become something of a lightning rod for the unrest between Bahraini authorities and the country’s disparate opposition. In 2011, protests against the event were such that the race was cancelled, and although it went ahead last year, spectator attendance was down. Last week, as protests grew, a series of explosions targeted Manama, including one that was directed at Bahrain Financial Harbour, according to local newspapers.
But Bahrain is still looking to expand on the success of its Formula One event, including potentially using the Sakhir circuit for additional races.
The head of the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, Mumtalakat, Mahmood Hashim Al Kooheji recently said there were numerous opportunities to leverage off the Formula One race, including linked events and greater use of the circuit, which is presently used only for the Grand Prix in April.
“There is a lot of potential and... that’s why we are dedicated to really looking at how we can explore that opportunity,” Al Kooheji said earlier this year.
“I don’t see [the Formula One circuit] as an asset, I see it as an opportunity. Frankly, it’s under utilised. And we can get a lot of value from this.
“We can see there’s a lot of potential and when I say that, it’s not just money. We have spent a lot of time, a lot of our investment in the team, in the company to really study what [we can do] and which one will do and how we will do it.”
Mumtalakat already has allocated $42m for new tourism and event initiatives in 2013, but none were related to the Formula One, Al Kooheji said. The company would look to compliment the existing event, he added.
“What we want to do is develop such an event [that would result in] a big international event to be established in Bahrain,” he said.
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