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Tue 30 Jan 2007 10:17 AM

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Gulf to be a driving force in F1

Bahrain renews its Formula One contract and Abu Dhabi looks set to host a Grand Prix in 2009.

The Grand Prix is on track to stay in Bahrain for the “rest of this decade and deep into the next” following the renewal of the Gulf’s state’s contract to host Formula One.

Bahrain is currently the only Middle East country to hold such an event, which this year takes place at the Bahrain International Circuit on April 13-15.

“I'm pleased to confirm that this relationship will continue into the future. Just three years ago Formula One - and motor sport in general - did not have any presence in the region,” said F1 legend Bernie Ecclestone in a statement issued by the Bahrain International Circuit.

“Bahrain has not only built a venue that is among the very best in the world and deservedly won acclaim for its Grand Prix, but has also built foundations for the current growth of interest and investment in Formula One across the Middle East,” he added.

According to the Bahrain International Circuit, the 2006 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix generated US $394 million in direct income to businesses and traders in the Kingdom, worth almost 3% of GDP and creating 400 full-time jobs.

However, Bahrain may no longer be able to claim its title as ‘Home of motor sport in the Middle East’: it looks likely that the UAE will win a similar contract.

Today’s Gulf News reports that Abu Dhabi is hoping to host a Formula One Grand Prix in 2009. It says that a racetrack is likely to be built on one of the emirate's man-made islands, according to an unnammed source.

An announcement is expected during the F1 festival being run by the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority from 1-4 February. A-list Formula One drivers Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher are likely to attend the event.

There has been a recent flurry of interest in motor sport in the region – not least in terms of financial investment.

Earlier this month, ArabianBusiness.com reported that the Bahrain government has bought a 30% shareholding in the McLaren Group, making it the second-largest shareholder after DaimlerChrysler, which owns 40% of the group.

And in 2005 the Mubadala Development Company, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Government of Abu Dhabi, purchased a 5% stake in Ferrari for $137m. Abu Dhabi also plans to open Ferrari World in 2009, the world’s first park dedicated to the car manufacturer.

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