I have always considered myself to be the Speedy Gonzales, not just of my family but my entire entourage. As a child, I used to whiz past on bicycles, pedalling away furiously. As a teenager I tried my hand at a rather masculine (or muscular) motorcycle, only to hit a wall right below my home and I behave no different behind the wheel of a car.
Thus, imagine my palpitations as I began to step into a bright red set of racing overalls, looking not very different from the one donned by Formula 1 racing legend Michael Schumacher. And I am on the same spot where he was almost 20 years ago, when he won the first-ever F1 Grand Prix race to be held in the entire Middle East in the year 2004.
I am at Bahrain International Circuit (BIC), one of the biggest tourist attractions in the Gulf nation. Completing my dress with a pair of gloves and the mandatory helmet, I literally race down to the track where my set of wheels is waiting for me. But it is here that my similarity with Schumacher ends and starts with Super Mario.
Instead of stepping into a Ferrari that Schumacher drove, I get into my GoKart more like Mario of the Nintendo fame! It may be smaller, but I am excited nonetheless. For it is my first time at GoKarting and I was racing with five other members of my group. The moment the race began, I stepped hard on the accelerator and kept my foot there, until I overtook everyone else. I went on to win with a relatively decent time of 1:48.204, beating the second-placed rival with just a whisker as she clocked 1:48.543.
Despite the relatively short race, the thrill of the victory stayed with me for long and I guess with it my hosts, Bahrain Tourism and Exhibition Authority (BTEA) had at least partly achieved their objective.
We were on a media fam trip to Bahrain, which is keen to emerge as a major tourism destination for Indian travellers of all segments, be it leisure, luxury, destination weddings or MICE. And to get there, it is counting on the magnetic pull of the BIC.
For participants in any MICE trip, one of the key attractions is the activity that the destination offers. MICE is no longer just about travelling to new locations and having fancy meals, but also about enjoying some unique experiences that one can have on the visit.
Located about 34 km south of the capital Manama, it is a short drive of 30 minutes. As you approach the circuit, you can spot the 8-storeyed VIP Tower, with the red and white Bahraini flag fluttering atop.
Once inside the circuit, we were taken on a short tour of the facilities. The first stop is the VIP Tower, the sole tall building in the area, which is a cylindrical building offering a 360° view of the area. As you enter the VIP Tower, the first sight is the Wall of Fame, which features portraits of the winners of F1 races each year here, starting with Schumacher in 2004.
Then we head to the top floor of the tower which has a large open-air terrace that gives a complete view of not just the entire racing track, but also the areas around it. The BIC is located in Sakhir, a desert area in the Southern Governorate and from top of the VIP Tower one can see vast swathes of the Arabian desert all around. At a distance, as per our guide, one can see the hotel where the race drivers and their crews stay.
Our guide tells us that even the first four floors are offices, the tower is mainly for the King and the Prime Minister, who have entire floors dedicated to them, with the King on the 7th floor and the PM on the 6th. The rooftop is a viewing deck.
During the races, the entire tower is out of bounds for all. But as it was not a race day when we visited the site, we were not only able to visit the tower, but also go to its rooftop.
The fascinating circuit was designed by the renowned German engineer Hermann Tilke in 2002. Built at a cost of about USD 150 million, the circuit incorporates many features of local culture. According to our guide, the entire facility took less than 18 months to build and finally opened on April 4, 2004, becoming the first-ever track in the Middle East to host the FIA Formula One World Championship. This opened doors to countless new opportunities for the entire region, not only in motorsport but also in business and tourism.
BIC features five FIA certified track layouts, more than anywhere else in the world. This allows the circuit to host a range of motor racing events. The 5.412 km long Grand Prix Track regularly hosts international races, besides the Formula One Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix. The other races include the FIA World Endurance Championship Six Hours of Bahrain, races in the GP2 Series and the Porsche Mobil 1 Super Cup.
From the VIP Tower, we head to the Race Control Tower, which is also known as the nerve-centre of the circuit as all the races are closely monitored from this tower. At Race Control Tower, race stewards operate more than 40 remote-controlled cameras placed strategically around the track, allowing for full view of on-track activities at all times from one central point. From here the races are monitored closely for any dangers to the race drivers, any accidents or even violations of the rules.
Next stop for us was a visit to the media room where global media representatives gather to report on the races.
There is also a BIC Welcome Centre, which essentially has a souvenir shop. Here one can find a wide selection of official Formula 1 and BIC merchandise, with numerous souvenirs like jackets, T-shirts, caps, commemorative licence plates as well as small knick-knacks like key-chains, cups or small pieces of decorations.
Besides five grandstands for spectators, that can accommodate upto 70,000 persons, the BIC also has several strategically placed lounges that provide an ideal setting for elite customers to enjoy the race experience from. The highlight is of course the Paddock Lounge, an enclosed lounge with a seating capacity of 700 which is located right above the F1 garages and overlooking the Formula 1 Pit Lane and the Paddock.
Jaw Resort & Spa
One of the ideal options for accommodation for visitors to Bahrain and notably the BIC is Jaw Resort, a luxurious resort located just across the width of the finger-shaped island that Bahrain is. Recreating the ambience of a Maldivian resort, with its lagoons and white sand beaches, the resort has only luxury villas with private pools. The villas range from 1 bedroom to 3 bedrooms. The top end villas have their own beach frontages and all private pools are of course temperature controlled.
Recreating the feel of Maldives, there are numerous elements here. There is a narrow path leading to the main dining area that is in the sea and all around the resort, along the water, if not in the water, there are numerous small shacks that serve as private sitting or dining areas for guests.
There are numerous options for having that special meal here, but one of the best is a transparent dome-shaped tent that is set slightly apart from the rest and which is beautifully lit-up in the evenings, giving a new meaning to the term dining under the stars.
Jaw Resort is also ideal for groups, be it destination weddings or MICE as it boasts of several unique features. Not only does it have its own private beach spread over 200 m, but also has waterpark and several options for settings of MICE gatherings or wedding parties. The capacity can range from 60 persons to 500, with Jaw Tent and Open Beach.