Revved up!

After the huge success of the 2004 Bahrain F1 Grand Prix, the Kingdom is pulling out all stops to host the event this year. ARRAN DALL reports on F1’s growing popularity

THE Formula One World Championship is firmly established as one of the most prestigious, popular, exciting and technically sophisticated competitions in the international sporting calendar and, now, having found a home in the Middle East at the Sakhir circuit in Bahrain, it has expanded its audience share to the whole region.

The sport transcends all boundaries of age and nationality to capture the imagination and enthusiasm of millions of people and its global popularity is rivaled only by the Summer Olympic Games and World Cup Soccer, which only occur every four years.
Held every year over an eight-month period generally on the basis of one Grand Prix every two weeks, each event is a three-day spectacular with practice and qualifying, culminating in the race on the Sunday. The Grand Prix races held throughout Europe, North and South America, the Far East, Australasia, and have firmly placed themselves within the Middle Eastern sphere due to the success and efficiency of Bahrain’s event last April 4. The number of TV viewers worldwide exceeds 336 million, and it is transmitted to over 201 countries.
In each of the host countries, the Grand Prix has a unique atmosphere of its own and is regarded as one of the highlights in the sporting and social calendar, generating considerable media and public interest. The ‘Desert Grand Prix’ already demands its own particular identity and has boosted the variety and global appeal of the F1 as a whole, being ranked with F1 hallmarks such as Monaco and Monza (Italy) which are regarded as classics, whilst races such as the Chinese, and Bahrain races are comparatively recent additions to the World Championship and have helped to widen the appeal of Formula One to a larger audience.
 The world’s most talented drivers compete in Formula One. To be crowned World Champion is the ultimate achievement for a driver and the level of competition is unrivalled, requiring a combination of skill, perseverance and determination. A wide range of nationalities are represented by the drivers which adds significantly to the international nature and high popularity of the Championship. Since its inception at the beginning of the Fifties, Formula One has produced eminent World Champions such as Juan Manuel Fangio, Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher.
Currently, the top teams such as Williams, Ferrari, and McLaren employ upwards of 250 highly-skilled designers, engineers and staff, operating from sophisticated facilities using the latest design and manufacturing technology. Formula One racing cars are constructed using advanced materials such as carbon fibre and titanium, whilst sophisticated electronics have become very important in areas such as engine management and data acquisition. The cars demonstrate exceptional performance, achieving top speeds of over 350 km/h with acceleration of 0-240 km/h in under 7 seconds.
International interest in the event has seen mixed fortunes in recent times, largely due to Michael Schumacher widespread dominance of the sport. However, potential brews amongst maturing drivers such as Jenson Button, Mark Webber, and Pablo Montoya, and ‘Schumi’s stranglehold looked to be faltering in the later stages of the 2004 season. Formula One’s global popularity is substantial and growing as currently 7 per cent of the world’s population watch each Grand Prix on television.
So don’t forget to be there at the Bahrain International Circuit from April 1-3 to catch all the thrills as the best race-car drivers in the world come to compete at the 2005 Bahrain Formula 1 Grand Prix.