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Interview: Bahrain circuit boss Shaikh Salman on 10 years of F1 and the Schumacher corner
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Posted By: Matt Meadows  |  04 Apr 2014   |  9:43 am GMT  |  53 comments

This weekend the Sakhir circuit in Bahrain marks a decade as part of the sport of Formula One and it has named a corner after seven times world champion Michael Schumacher, who remains in a coma after a ski accident.

Following a civil conflict that led to the race being abandoned in 2011, and which is still in the background to the event each year, the Middle East’s first F1 venue this weekend stages its 10th grand prix and to raise the bar and ring the changes, it is hosting its first night race.

Here, Shaikh Salman, the CEO of Bahrain’s Sakhir circuit, speaks to JAonF1 about his thoughts on his country’s decade in F1 and the reasons behind the decision to name turn one after Schumacher.

Shaikh Salman, you’re celebrating 10 years of the Bahrain Grand Prix, it has not been without its difficulties and controversy, but how do you feel looking back over the decade?

Well we are very excited. When we started out in 2004 I remember we built the track in 496 days. The whole focus was on bringing F1 to Bahrain mainly for the purpose of putting Bahrain on the map. We’re passionate about the sport, we have had a Motor Federation since 1952 and it was a good continuation to have that type of sport, but mainly [it was about] picking a large sporting event to put Bahrain on the map. In 2004 I was looking at the pictures of what our vending area looked like and the what paddock looked like, and it was basic. We had no palm trees in the paddock, I think we had maybe 10 tents and now, looking at the pictures around us, we have come a long way. Today we celebrate 10 years, yes it’s a milestone, but we also celebrate the first night race.

The night race is a first time for us, so I go back to that 2004 picture and [this is the same] this is where we are starting; every year we will have to learn and improve and know how it works for us. It’s not right to approach it now, with a few years under our belt, and say “everything will be right in the first year”, especially for the night element. So we are learning there, there are a lot of question marks – is the effect lighting correct? – and that for us is exciting, it’s always interesting. There’s always so many more possibilities now because of light.

For 10 years, it has been a great experience, it’s been fantastic for us in terms of how the human capital, how we as Bahrainis have managed to go from how nobody knew what we do, to actually taking care of them from the moment they land – we are trying to do that, and it shows that this is the whole point of the event.

There is a nice touch that everyone in the Formula One community and fans around the world appreciate, which is naming Turn One after Michael Schumacher. Tell us a little bit about that.

When we started out in 2004, if I could choose one name that everyone started picking up, it was Michael Schumacher. If you go in to town and say his name then everyone knows him. He also had an input on the first corner when we were designing it, where he had an impact of making it tighter and more challenging because that’s where everything happens. There is a lot that he added and in our history he has been the number one driver, so for us that was the reason to do it – he has helped build the culture of Formula One in this region by having his name associated with the red of Ferrari and Bahrain. We’ve always had the idea of naming corners, it is where we wanted to go. Michael is the one that was chosen and we are very honoured and happy with the reaction from his family.


Formula One has changed fundamentally this year, the cars look the same from the outside but they sound very different and the technology under the bonnet is extremely different. As a promoter what is your take, so far, on Formula One 2014?

I think the interesting thing and the exciting thing for me is that I have seen the drivers struggle when they are driving the car and that is always good to see. As a venue, we are also interested that the entertainment side and the action is there. More action and more spins create better action and that’s the most important thing.

On the sound, we have to wait and see. We have just had pre-season testing and personally for me I have seen how that personal reaction has changed from the first day of testing to the last. I think there are positives and negatives, I’m sitting on the fence to see how it goes to be honest.

I cannot speak to you without talking about the civil unrest and the security situation. The last few years here have been very tight security, noticeable for people coming from outside, but what is the situation now? Do you have any concerns?

No there are no concerns. For us it is a round of the Formula One World Championship and so security measures for the event must be monitored but it is no different from any other event and I have no concerns on security.

After a decade are you happy to continue with Formula One? Is it something you want to retain in Bahrain for as long as you can?

Yes. For us it is always something that we want to build and I hope the investment in the lighting project shows that commitment to the sport, and that we want to build the right type of racing and the right type of atmosphere, win which people can enjoy themselves. I think it opens up a new area, where we can expand our race, both on-track and off the track. It makes more sense because people are off work and off school so it improves our attendance and opens up a multi-approach solution.

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53 Comments
  1. goferet says:

    I think the Bahrain business venture has been a success for with the mideast being in the middle of the earth, this means fans can easily get the the venue which means money and exposure for the country however all this would mean nothing without local fans to support the sport.

    For sure, the country has taken a knock because of the protests the past couple of years but as the Bahrain people have always said, they would love the show to go on for they have no grudge against the sport.

    Also we have tended to have fun races for the lead in the Principality since it’s inauguration e.g. 2006, 2009, 2012 and 2013 >>> in other words the track layout does favour close racing.

    Overall, Bahrain has done a good job on reaching this milestone for in this cut throat sport, there are other new venues that haven’t made it past their 5th anniversary.

    1. I know says:

      As long as the ruling family is paying for everything, it’s no miracle they “made it” to this point. The race is always poorly attended, attracts almost no sponsorship apart from companies that also belong to the ruling family (e.g. Gulf Air, Batelco, …), and is certainly loss making in a commercial sense.

      However, as a publicity vehicle for the dictatorship, it probably still provides good “value for money”.

      1. goferet says:

        @ I know

        Oh I see…

      2. Purple Helmet says:

        +1

  2. Nick says:

    Out of interest, how was Shaikh Salman appointed? Was it through a well contested international search to find the most suitable candidate, or was it just because he’s related to the king?

    1. SteveS says:

      “Well contested international searches to find the most suitable candidate” are for proles. At the upper reaches of society in every country, people get their jobs by having the right connections. This is as true in the UK and US as it is in the Middle East.

      1. Gaz Boy says:

        The UK and USA have democratically elected governments Steve. The Middle East – apart from US backed Israel – does not.
        Also, you can criticise a political leader in the UK and USA. Criticise a political leader in the middle east and you will be executed.
        Is this the same of regime F1 wants to endorse?

      2. kenneth chapman says:

        hahaha….given the quality of the leaders that arise in those countries from time to time i think i prefer the bahreini model.

        i simply cannot endorse these ideas about F1 whereby they are sanctioned by the few as being politically motivated by way of endorsement.

        the role of F1 is to arrive, race, and then leave. keep the political bias out of it.

      3. Gaz Boy says:

        Kenneth, the thing is though in F1 just arriving, racing and then leaving it is being myopic at best, and supporting brutal regimes at worst.
        Still, at least Mr E gets his pay cheque from the Bahrain royal family, then that’s all that matters I suppose.

      4. Robert says:

        Gaz Boy, I assume you do not have first hand knowledge of the middle east. Are you one of the people who believes everything he reads and then preach it as gospel?

        From a racing point of I like the circuit, I appreciate what have been achieved and I would like the venue to be on the calendar for the next years to come.

        From a fan point of view, I appreciate the acknowledgements given to my favorite F1 driver and the value given to Michael’s family reaction to it.

  3. BW says:

    There’s just been some good news on Schu from his manager.

  4. Truth or Lies says:

    Just heard the encouraging news concerning Michaels condition this morning. Hopefully a real positive development.

    We’ll be thinking of you Michael this weekend as the cars stream through ‘Schumacher’

  5. franed says:

    There seems to be no R5Live coverage of first practice. Even the link to the preview on the supposed live commentary by text page is wrong and goes to the live R5live broadcast instead of the preview.
    BBC is definitely trying to dump F1!

  6. Clarks4WheelDrift says:

    The race is very poorly attended, grandstands empty, it needs resolved.

    I put forward to the organisers that they put on some free flights around the world and quality accomodation to get people to the race weekend.

    They obviously need true fans of the sport so they should start with everyone registered on this site.

    1. James Allen says:

      LOL!

      The climate is very good this year – sunny and not too hot, just 24 degrees.

    2. Purple Helmet says:

      Better still dump this race and have a race somewhere with people who will go to see it, and where there is a chance of rain.

      And even better if it is in a country where they don’t shoot women and children protesting for democracy.

      1. Gaz Boy says:

        +1,000,000

  7. wsh says:

    Indeed, a bit of good news. Schumi is always on my mind, when F1 is on very so, when not more humming in the background, but never gone.

    I wonder if any of the current drivers will get a corner named after them.

  8. Gaz Boy says:

    Is could be just me and my “moral concious”, but I feel very, very uneasy about F1 going to countries such as Bahrain, China and now Russia, who for one reason or another I wouldn’t want to associate with, or F1 for that matter.
    Ah, you’re just a typical hypocrite from the West, you could say – but at least in the western world democracy, liberty, stability and transparency are enshrined, and cherished. Mr Putin’s very aggressive and abrasive foreign policy has reminded governments and peoples of the Western World that the rest of the world still marches to a very different beat indeed.
    The way F1 is heading, in a few years we can look forward to grand prix in those wonderful beacons of democracy and liberty in Somalia, Iran, Pakistan, North Korea, Yemen, Nigeria and Bolivia.
    And don’t get me started on FIFA’s decision to hold the world cup in Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022………….

    1. SteveS says:

      Why not object to the USGP then? It’s held in a country with a history of attacking other countries, a country which spies on its own people and on people around the world.

      1. Gaz Boy says:

        True enough Steve – US foreign policy even causes annoyance in Europe and Australasia, its supposed allies.
        However, the USA does have a democratically elected government which can be booted out after four years. The same cannot be said for Bahrain or China unfortunately. I know I take the mickey out of the Yanks – as do many Brits, South Africans, Canadians, Aussies and Kiwks, even on this website – but in the defence of the Austin race I will say the US Grand Prix is not the pet project of some despotic dictatorship.
        I stand by my comments: I feel uneasy about China, Bahrain and Russia being given worldwide exposure via grand prix racing. Yes, I know here in the western world we’ve got our faults, but having undemocratic countries run under martial law isn’t one of them.

      2. alexbookoo says:

        I think you’re coming from the right place Gaz Boy but I don’t think Western democracies should be the only places allowed to host sporting events. As mentioned, Western democracies are not paragons of virtue. They have been responsible for far more violent deaths this century than other forms of government. I do, however, agree that F1 in particular puts itself in a very poor position and that’s because of the way it goes begging for public funds from despotic regimes. And I think Bahrain is the ultimate case. You could make the argument on China that manufacturers want to sell cars to the huge population, which has always been part of motorsport. You could argue that it’s a good idea for F1 to get into Russia because it’s an emerging country with a big population that might embrace the sport. But you can’t make either argument for Bahrain, which is purely and simply a vanity race for the royal family and the elite, and which is only on the calendar because they pay for it. And Bahrain is a special case when the Shia majority are being repressed by the Sunni elite and are actively opposed to the Grand Prix. That’s why the Bahrain Grand Prix remains truly shameful.

      3. Jack says:

        Gaz Boy… you’re insultingly wrong.

        1. Many of the countries you mentioned, e.g Pakistan, Iran and Russia ARE democratically elected and internally do not suffer from any sort of civil unrest (with the exception of Pakistan struggling with the Al-Qauda in Northern regions, but that’s an Afghan issue, they’re not Pakistani

        2. The U.S spies on its own people, none of the countries you mentioned does.

        3. The U.S is responsible for the end of 50 million lives since 1960. If you combine every country you listed and added together their ‘death count’ you wouldn’t have 1% of that figure.

        4. Your view is the result of Western media, as usual, portraying the rest of the world as animals.

        Overall what you’re saying is ridiculous… (Okay I agree about Nigeria and Somalia but thats it..) but seriously, how THE HELL can you complain about Russia’s foreign policy? HAVE YOU SEEN THE US? Some people are blind…

        Actually research the countries you slander before making your ignorant, superiority complex comments.

      4. Howard P says:

        Democracy is just an illusion. Has voting for “the other side” changed policies, especially foreign policy at all? The US – whoever is elected – maintains its outward looking, invasive foreign policy. You seem to be saying that having a superficial changeover every half decade is enough to excuse them on its foreign activities. Of which by the way, are far more extensive than these non democratic countries you mention.

    2. David Howard says:

      +1000

    3. Adeel says:

      Do you mind keeping your political views to yourself as no one honestly cares about your so called moral conscious.

      If we go down this path, there should be no races in USA or UK for all the damage these countries did to Iraq….invading a country on false pretext and ending up killing up thousands of innocent lives….u should take ur skewed moral compass and ask all those innocent whose life was destroyed what they think about your beacon of western hope.

      i have been following James’ site since it was launched after he stopped writing on itv’s website in 2008 and never posted any comment but i find it extremely annoying when people digress from F1 and air their views & pretend they are better than others while condemning others.

      Gazboy this is the second time u have posted such stuff, pls keep ur views to F1 without the Reggies, Franks, Fazza etc…

      1. Gaz Boy says:

        In all fairness, I did say I might across as a hypocrite from the West………..I accept that.
        I wasn’t political as such, just voicing a genuine concern. I’m just saying I feel very, very uncomfortable than an F1 race takes place in a country where its citizens are practically under martial law. The same could be said about China, to a certain extent, while Russia’s ultra aggressive foreign policy is such that both F1 and FIFA should seriously consider their position about holding sporting events in Mr Putin’s country.
        I agree that some of the actions of the UK and USA governments are deplorable – but at least the UK and USA have democratic governments and its citizens are not under martial law. I don’t think the same can be said for Bahrain sir.
        In my defence, I am just voicing a concern that in F1 going to countries that are practically despotic dictatorships it is sending out the wrong message that grand prix racing is tactically supporting brutal regimes, and I for one believe that is wrong.
        In all fairness, in 2012 and 2013 Mark Webber aired exactly the same comments as I have, so at least I have one person in the F1 community who agrees with my views.

      2. Alex says:

        Gazboy,
        We are for here F1, keep political rubbish out of this.

        Some people would argue that the so called “democratically elected” governments of the USA and UK, are just puppets of the real decision makers. Just google New World Order, and we can go off on a whole new tangent.

        Plz stick to F1, politics suck!

      3. Howard P says:

        “some of the actions”

        well that’s putting it lightly. Waterboarding, extradition, detainment without charges, bombing innocents, toturing innocents, worldwide surveillance on civilians and businesses???

        But hey, democracy, they’re fine. They’re excused.

      4. C63 says:

        Will your moral compass allow you to watch the GP?

      5. Gaz Boy says:

        Well, it seems some people agree with my post and others don’t.
        Well, to the people who have posted saying that its alright for F1 to endorse a brutal despotic dictatorship then that’s your opinion, but I guess with Mr E and FOM money is more important than ethics.
        What the FIA needs to do grow a pair of big gonads and tell the Bahrain ruling elite to get stuffed, F1 ain’t coming here anymore.
        To those who agree with my comments, thank you, there are some people out there who do have balls unlike the FIA.

      6. Kramgp says:

        I agree this is not the place for a political discussion. So then why write a whole paragraph on it?

      7. alexbookoo says:

        Adeel your response is outrageous. 1) Gaz Boy has the right to say whatever he wants if it passes the moderator. You didn’t have to read all of it. 2) If they hold a race in a country where the majority of the population is being repressed and there are protests against the race, it is a political event. 3) This particular post from James is an interview with a political figure.

      8. Adeel says:

        What is so outrageous about my response? All i asked is for the discussion to remain on F1 and keep personal political views out of it. As i said it is not the first time Gazboy has given us the pleasure of his western views & i ignored it but when he criticizes your country I have a right to respond.
        Fine if you want to ban bahrain might as well include Mclaren because they have bahraini investor / money…the interview was with the CEO of the circuit…
        I believe there is enough politics in F1 itself that we can spend our time discussing that..what brings us here is F1 & not the geo political situations in any country..

      9. Gaz Boy says:

        Adeel, you can criticise my post if you want – it is a liberal democratic forum.
        I not attacking the people of Bahrain – did I ever say that? I’m attacking the ruling royal family of Bahrain who use this race as vanity project while effectively ruling its citizens with martial law.
        Most of all though, I’m critical of the powers that be in F1 for actually having a grand prix in Bahrain in the first place. I’m sorry, I stand by my comments: to have F1 in Bahrain is to endorse a brutal dictatorship while turning the other way because the Bahrain royal family pays Mr E and FOM a big juicy pay cheque.
        Money walks all over everything, even the preciousness of human rights and even life itself sadly.

      10. alexbookoo says:

        What is outrageous about your response is that you’re telling another forum member what is permissible for him to write on this site. That’s not your right. You are not the moderator.

        What brings us here is F1, you’re right, and F1 is in Bahrain. What brings F1 to Bahrain? The Al Khalifa family. The Bahrain Grand Prix is a political propaganda event for the regime. Funny how the CEO of the circuit is an…. Al Khalifa. Of course it’s political.

    4. Leslie D'Amico says:

      I’m with you “Gaz Boy” as for “Goferet” saying, “the Bahrain people have always said, they would love the show to go on for they have no grudge against the sport.” I guess he’s reading a “different newspaper” than the ones I read. I’ve travelled a little around this world on business and pleasure and can assure you, you do not want to spend your vacation in some of these countries F1 and MotoGP go to now.

    5. Jonathan says:

      I mostly agree, but I think F1′s predicament regarding Russia and China is different to the Bahrain situation.

      For better or worse, Russia and China are major economic powers. Their leaders won’t suffer (or even notice) if F1 disappears. In some ways, maybe it is a good thing for F1 to visit these places and show Western culture in a positive light.

      By contrast, the Bahrain GP is little more than a propaganda exercise for a repressive regime. They need F1 more than F1 needs them. It’s a continuing embarrassment that F1 turns up year after year to confer spurious legitimacy and undeserved glamour on the ruling family.

      1. Gaz Boy says:

        Johnathan, thanks for your measured response, I appreciate that somebody is on my wavelength.

      2. Purple Helmet says:

        Spot on.

    6. kenneth chapman says:

      well gaz boy we could start with israel and the US connection. an hypocracy of monumental proportions. i guess that you’d agree with an F1 race around tel aviv?

      1. Gaz Boy says:

        Kenneth, no I wouldn’t.
        I think you’re missing the point. Bahrain is ruled by despotic dictatorships, and just be simply being there F1 is endorsing that. But hey, money talks.

      2. kenneth chapman says:

        @gaz boy. no i haven’t missed the point at all.you lack any understanding of the politics of the middle east. western ideas about democracy should not be forced on any other nation. what gives you the right to determine another nations way of life?

        i have spent a great deal of time in the middle east and have a deep appreciation of both sides of the coin.the divisions that create disharmony are deep seated and religious in content. western style democracies are simply not the answer. F1 is about racing. let the bahreinis sort out their own problems. it is their country.

        F1 is about racing.

      3. Gaz Boy says:

        Kenneth: My objection is that the Bahrain grand prix is basically a vanity project for the ruling despotic dictatorship while most of the citizens of Bahrain are brutally crushed and repressed. Remember those tanks and military vehicles being used en masse a few years against the protesters?
        Personally, I think the event is reprehensible, and for F1 to be in Bahrain effectively endorses this ghastly regime. I’m not advocating the middle-east to copy the West, that’s futile.
        What I am advocating is that F1 and the FIA should grow some bollocks and tell the Bahrain royal family “sorry mate, we ain’t coming back.” I doubt that will happen because ethics have small bearing on finances sadly.
        You’re right F1 is about racing – but in this so called event, it is politically motivated and I for one cannot support or endorse that.

      4. kenneth chapman says:

        @gaz boy, you are just so wrong. you state ‘most of the citizens of bahrein are brutally crushed and repressed’. source please accompanied by unbiased statistical analysis that supports your theory.

        by accepting your your argument/prognosis then F1 should not, by extrapolation, race in china, ref uighurs/tibetans! i would also like to hear your reasoning vis-a-vis racing at sochi or is this to be ignored?

        where you fall short in your reasoning is a basic misunderstanding of islam and the deeply embedded schisms between the beliefs of shia and sunni. you also seem to cast off as irrelevant the all important understanding of tribalism which in some cases even outranks the severity of this religious dichotomy.

        ethics has no part in this and F1 should be above it all. a race is sanctioned therefore a race should be held and that is all there is to it. by all means be morally outraged. that is your right but don’t try and foist that opinion on others who may care to differ.

        as a footnote, seeing you think that holding a race there is ‘reprehensible’ could i perhaps presume that you will not watch the race tonight as a silent protest supporting your final words, ‘i for one cannot support or endorse that’. to do otherwise would be hypocritical….would it not?

      5. Gaz Boy says:

        Kenneth, I don’t have Sky, so I can’t watch the race live anyway. I’ll just check the results, and leave it at that – I won’t even watch the BBC highlights just this once.
        My evidence of Bahrain citizens comes from 2011/2012 when the ruling royal family asked their mates in Saudi Arabia to send in the tanks, armoured vehicles, etc………lovely gesture that.
        Kenneth, we’ll have to agree to disagree. Personally, I just wish there was no Bahrain grand prix, full stop.

      6. kenneth chapman says:

        @ gaz boy… sorry to be late in responding. i do agree to disagree. best resolution. of course you can watch the race with impunity, no one will take umbrage at that.

        as for saudis ‘ sending in the tanks’ well FYI there is a long standing agreement between all the gulf states of mutual support in the case of conflict. small nation states are served well by these agreements when activists of unknown and untrusted pedigree support armed insurrection. the governments responsibility to protect their citizens overrides many considerations.

        just my observations, thats all.

  9. kenneth chapman says:

    as a another thought….any chance that ‘rascasse’ will be renamed as well?

  10. Ahmed Sydney says:

    Well done to Bahrain. Dedicating a corner to Schumacher and openly supporting a legend of the sport. Love or hate him, but you cannot deny he was a pioneer that helped to shape/ define modern F1. His dedication to his engineers, revolutionary fitness levels, unrelenting determination and passion to his team were unheard of.
    Shame on the Australian and Malaysian GP’s for not showing similar support. Even a banner would have been a nice gesture.

  11. kenneth chapman says:

    am i the only one who is literally ‘shumachered out”.

    1. pushthebutton says:

      yes

      1. kenneth chapman says:

        yes, i thought so.

  12. MAX says:

    It’s one of the worst places for a Formula 1 track.
    It’s way to hot and the sand will ruin the engines aswell as making the track slippery
    Russia however seem’s like a great idea as would several places in the United States of America, India and China

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