Analysis: How a Gulf kingdom crowned five world champions

In just one weekend, and in unprecedented fashion, five drivers were crowned as world champions across three FIA/CIK series at one venue: Bahrain International Circuit.

Analysis: How a Gulf kingdom crowned five world champions
Sh. Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa, Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich
Porsche Team FIA WEC Drivers Championship - #2 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Romain Dumas, Neel Jani, Marc Lieb
#5 Toyota Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid: Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima, Anthony Davidson
#5 Toyota Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid: Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima, Anthony Davidson
LMP1 Podium: race winners #8 Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R18: Lucas di Grassi, Loic Duval, Oliver Jarvis
#77 Dempsey Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR: Richard Lietz, Michael Christensen
#6 Toyota Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid: Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi
#5 Toyota Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid: Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima, Anthony Davidson
#7 Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R18: Marcel Fässler, Andre Lotterer, Benoit Tréluyer
Toyota Racing vs. Audi Sport Team Joest
Gerhard Berger, André Lotterer, Audi Sport Team Joest
Rob Leuven, Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich
David Vidales, Tony Kart
Kart details
Pedro Hiltbrand, CRG
Podium
Pedro Hiltbrand, CRG
Podium
Pedro Hiltbrand, CRG
#77 Dempsey Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR: Richard Lietz, Michael Christensen

Since it hosted the first Formula 1 Grand Prix in the region in 2004, Bahrain has been a trendsetter that other players in the region – most notably Qatar and Abu Dhabi – have followed in similarly successful style.

Last weekend, Bahrain set an historic landmark with three FIA/CIK World Championships being decided at one venue: The FIA World Endurance Championship and CIK-FIA World Karting and Junior World Karting Championships.

In all, five drivers – Neel Jani, Romain Dumas, Marc Lieb, Pedro Hiltbrand and Victor Martins – were crowned as world champions within hours of each other. The event was hosted under the umbrella of the Bahrain Motorsport Festival, with 268 drivers from 35 nationalities competing.

"For us it was a very special weekend, I think for the first time in history we had three World Championships decided on the same day, out of the eight on the FIA and CIK calendar," Shaikh Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa, Bahrain International Circuit's chief executive, told Motorsport.com.

"This year we had three elements that came together to make it a motorsports festival. First of all we had the WEC, then we had the two World Championship karting rounds.

"The karting was a very special event: two world champions crowned, in a pair of one-off races. I think we had 100 drivers in Junior and 47 in Senior, and I recall the last time we had a similar World Championship event, in 2013, we had Max Verstappen racing. And three years later we have him in our Formula 1 race."

Video: Shaikh Salman on BIC Festival...

Building its history

The Gulf island kingdom has now hosted 12 F1 Grands Prix, and played host to all kinds of championships down the years – including even Australian V8 Supercars as well as GP2, F3 and FIA GTs and local series.

"We try to be the home of motorsports in the Middle East," says Shaikh Salman. "The Middle East is an important part of any World Championship. And our commitment to motorsport in a long-term one.

"We try to bring all aspects of the racing calendars. We have Formula 1 at the beginning of the year, at the end of the year we have endurance racing with the 6 Hours of Bahrain. They're both a very important part of bringing motorsports culture to the region.

"When we started in 2004 we were the first circuit, and there are other circuits that then came on board like Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar, and they all help in building this motorsports culture. I don't think we compete with each other, but we complement each other in the region. As long as we don't clash with the calendars, it's all beneficial.

"We're very proud of our races here, it's been a fantastic final round of the WEC this year, and we've helped them add a race in the Middle East. It's great to see all the manufacturers and technology that goes on in the WEC, and as a race circuit it's important to manage those relationships with Porsche, Toyota, Ferrari, Ford and the other manufacturers. So it's not just about one weekend, you can gain a lot of business throughout the year.

"We were very honoured to have Audi winning their final race after so much success over these 18 years, all the success at Le Mans, and Mark Webber's final race."

Racing under lights

Since 2014, Bahrain has run its Grands Prix under floodlights, and its WEC races have always started before dusk and raced into the darkness.

And even its karting circuit has mirrored that approach: "Racing under the lights is something special, and the drivers said they loved the layout of the karting circuit, a very challenging one," adds Shaikh Salman of the 1.414km kart track that features 14 turns.

"Everyone said they wanted to come back, which isn't surprising because we get 120-130 people coming to our arrive-and-drive days every day. We're open 10am until midnight, and we only stop two days a year – the day after the World Championships and on National Day.

"Our karting circuit plays a very vital role in building our level of grassroots racers in the region. If we want to see our local drivers one day rise up the ladder in Formula 3, GP2 and F1 then we need to build up our karting base, and then they can also graduate into GT races or single-seater events. It's a very important part of our plans.

"In terms of our facility, I know I'm biased but I think it's one of the best I've seen, and the service that we provide is more important – we look after our customers with pride, passion and performance. It's worked very well for us."

Long-term commitment

Bahrain has become a fixture on the world motorsports scene, and a significant one on many levels – not just geographically.

"We work closely with the FIA and CIK," concludes Shaikh Salman. "For example, they were [recently] testing some barriers at the side of the track. We're a centre for the FIA's Institute for Excellence, so we work closely with them on various aspects of safety and standards."

Interview by Khodr Rawi

shares
comments
Derani targets further LMP1 outings after Toyota test
Previous article

Derani targets further LMP1 outings after Toyota test

Next article

Porsche confirms Lieb and Dumas exit from LMP1 line-up

Porsche confirms Lieb and Dumas exit from LMP1 line-up
Load comments
Why Le Mans didn't decide Toyota's WEC title outcome in 2021 Prime

Why Le Mans didn't decide Toyota's WEC title outcome in 2021

Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez scored a second successive FIA World Endurance Championship title in the #7 Toyota, as its new Le Mans Hypercar went unbeaten. Motorsport.com recaps how each of the four classes in the 2021 season were won and picks out the best LMH and GTE drivers

WEC
Nov 28, 2021
The unanswered questions that define WEC 2021's controversial ending Prime

The unanswered questions that define WEC 2021's controversial ending

OPINION: The deeply unsatisfying ending to a brilliant World Endurance Championship GTE Pro battle in Bahrain had Ferrari provisionally heading back from the desert as the victor. But Porsche plans to appeal the outcome, which rests on a number of confusing elements that have yet to be satisfactorily explained.

WEC
Nov 9, 2021
How the WEC's heavyweight duel reached its controversial flashpoint Prime

How the WEC's heavyweight duel reached its controversial flashpoint

The Ferrari versus Porsche fight for the FIA World Endurance Championship's GTE Pro title had been a finely-poised affair, right up until Alessandro Pier Guidi's punt on Michael Christensen in the closing stages of the Bahrain 8 Hours handed Ferrari a provisional title, pending Porsche's appeal. Here's how the controversy played out.

WEC
Nov 8, 2021
The remarkable fixes Toyota used to avert another Le Mans disaster Prime

The remarkable fixes Toyota used to avert another Le Mans disaster

The 1-2 finish achieved by Toyota at this year's Le Mans 24 Hours was a result that will have surprised few, given its status as pre-event favourite. But the result was anything but straightforward, as worsening fuel pressure concerns required the team's drivers and engineers to pursue "creative fixes" on the fly. Here is the full story of how it reached the end without a lengthy pit visit

Le Mans
Nov 3, 2021
The 10 greatest drives of lost legend Jo Siffert Prime

The 10 greatest drives of lost legend Jo Siffert

It's 50 years since Jo Siffert was killed in his prime at Brands Hatch. The Swiss scored just two world championship wins in a Formula 1 career spent largely with privateer teams, but showed on numerous occasions in single-seaters and in sportscars with Porsche that he could beat any of the best drivers of his era given the right equipment.

Formula 1
Oct 24, 2021
Inside the Le Mans finish too barmy for Hollywood Prime

Inside the Le Mans finish too barmy for Hollywood

Team WRT has been at the forefront of GT racing for years and made a successful move to prototypes for 2021, capped by an LMP2 win on its Le Mans debut. It could've been even better had the race been one lap shorter, when its cars ran 1-2, but the stranger-than-fiction reality has spurred the team to reach greater heights.

Le Mans
Oct 16, 2021
Why Toyota's Le Mans victory was not as simple as it looked Prime

Why Toyota's Le Mans victory was not as simple as it looked

Toyota scored its fourth Le Mans 24 Hours victory and a 1-2, with the #7 car of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Jose Maria Lopez beating the #8. But although it looked straightforward from the outside, Toyota faced serious problem that had to be solved with some quick-thinking and ingenuity.

Le Mans
Aug 24, 2021
What we've learned from the Le Mans 24 Hours so far Prime

What we've learned from the Le Mans 24 Hours so far

The new dawn for the FIA World Endurance Championship has arrived at Le Mans, as Hypercars prepare to duel for victory in the world's oldest endurance race. Motorsport.com picks out the 10 things we have learned in the build up to the race.

Le Mans
Aug 21, 2021