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By Tanya Lunn » Several years ago, you might have been hard-pushed to put Bahrain on the international sporting map. All that changed, though, on 4th April 2004 when this small island kingdom roared onto the international racing scene staging it’s first ever Formula One Grand Prix. Michael Schumacher, driving a Ferrari, won the Middle East’s inaugural F-1 race, to the delight of fans watching at the Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) and around the globe.

For Schumacher, it was his 73rd career victory, but for Bahrain it marked the triumphant culmination of two years’ intensive work building the US$150 million track in the heart (and heat!) of the desert. The atmosphere in the Kingdom at the time was electric – no-one could help but become caught up in the ‘F1 Fever’ that gripped the country for a few days last April – and deservedly so.

The whine of those incredible engines as the cars themselves, bright specks against the start white landscape, tore across the desert thrilled even the sceptics amongst us. Palm trees against the blue, blue sky and that distinctive white tower and then the totally unexpected rain on the day itself - F1 had never been quite like this before! Accolades poured in from all quarters for the world’s newest racing circuit – and in December 2004, the world governing body of motorsport, the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), recognised the country’s achievement by awarding Bahrain the Race Promoters’ Trophy for the best organised Grand Prix during the year.

The trophy is awarded annually to the Grand Prix that has proved most helpful in the most difficult conditions. Nomination for the trophy is always fiercely contested and Bahrain faced stiff opposition from a number of countries including Australia and China, where the Shanghai Grand Prix was run for the first time in 2004. Designed by internationally respected consultancy Tilke & Partners, the Bahrain International Circuit is the first of its kind in the Middle East and the most advanced in the world.

Now the home of Formula One Grand Prix racing in the Arab world, Bahrain International Circuit offers six integrated motorsport facilities including the Formula One Grand Prix Track; an Inner Track for testing, club events, a racing school and driver training activities; and an Outer Track for all classes of racing, incentive events, manufacturer engine, tyre and component testing.

These are complemented by a distinctive VIP viewing tower incorporating hospitality suites; grandstands and spectator areas accommodating 70,000; an international broadcast centre, a media centre for 500 journalists, team buildings, merchandising areas, helicopter and light aircraft landing facilities. Nowadays, it seems that no matter where one travels in the world, at the mention of the name ‘Bahrain’, faces light up as recognition dawns: “Ah yes, Bahrain – haven’t they just had a Grand Prix?” The answer is very definitely ‘Yes!’