Bahrain GP chiefs set for discussion with F1 over potential permanent race shift

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Bahrain Grand Prix CEO Sheikh Salman bin Isa al-Khalifa has indicated the possibility of a permanent shift to a Saturday race after the positive impact of this year’s season-opening event.

Due to the holy tradition of Ramadan commencing on March 10 this year, F1 was forced to alter its calendar, resulting in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix running from Thursday to Saturday this week.

The knock-on-effect resulted in the event in Bahrain being brought forward a day to ensure the shipment of freight, and the setting up required in between events, would not be compromised by a tighter schedule if the race had maintained its Sunday slot.

A clear advantage with the change is for the first time in the history of the Bahrain GP, and the Middle East in general, qualifying and the grand prix were staged over its weekend on Friday and Saturday.

Asked about the impact of such a change on the event, speaking exclusively to RacingNews365, Sheikh Salman said: “From ticket sales, yes, we did sell out earlier than usual, and that’s a good sign.

“International sales were also higher. I think we reached about 11,000 people flying in. When you look at the hotels, the rental cars, the restaurants, the economic benefits to a small island are tremendous.

“Because the event is on a Middle East weekend, they (the local fans) might come earlier compared to a race being on a Sunday when they might come after school or after work because even though the race is at six (o’clock), people would come later.

“I guess when we came in, we were humble and respected – and we still respect – the culture of Formula 1 (with a grand prix) being on a Sunday.

“Now Vegas has started on a Saturday, and you see that and say, ‘Maybe we can, if we agree with Formula 1 and Formula 1 agrees.

“It’s not our decision. It’s a collective decision. We’ll see the numbers and maybe decide.”

With the inaugural Vegas race setting a precedent, and with these two races in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia running on Saturday, there is now the possibility for permanent change.

As to his preference, Sheikh Salman added: “Okay, it’s selfish. If I say, ‘Yes, I want it on the (Middle East) weekend’, it’s only for Bahrain, and yet, we are trying to grow our international sales.

“We’re 11,000, so maybe 13, 14,000 next year. Does it make sense for them, because you go back on a Sunday, and you have a day off? So it’s not just about us. I’m not thinking about Bahrain or the Middle East.

“We were sold out, and we’re in a global sport, so we need to see the timezone and see what works.

“Selfishly, I would say, it makes better sense for the people in Bahrain to be on the weekend. Internationally, I don’t know the answer.

“But we’ll ask, and we’ll see with the guests, and if they prefer that, and it fits in, then we’ll have that discussion (with F1).”

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