Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Crown Prince, Deputy Supreme Commander and First Deputy Premier of Bahrain is optimistic of extending the Bahrain Grand Prix’s F1 contract beyond 2016, reportedly telling press this weekend: “It’s possible that you will hear something soon.”
With Bahrain’s F1 current contract coming to an end at the end of this year, interest from Qatar to host an event has sparked rumour that Sakhir could lose its place on the calendar.
With Abu Dhabi signing a new ‘multi-year contract’ beyond 2016 in November last year and Qatar edging ever closer to bring Formula One to the country, Bahrain seems the most threatened destination.
Prince Salman remained quietly confident of Bahrain’s chances of retaining its F1 status, especially regarding its status as the first race to be hosted in the region.
“This is the normal process and we’re moving through it,” the Crown Prince was quoted as saying. “I believe as the first race in the Middle East we’ve proved the importance of this race and of its followers, and Abu Dhabi has followed us.
“There might also be future races in the area, but Bahrain will always retain its place.”
— Bahrain Int. Circuit (@BAH_Int_Circuit) April 18, 2015
F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone hinted at a new deal for Bahrain this weekend, but also alluded to interest from Qatar.
“I don’t know at the moment, a lot of people talk to us. It’s possible to have three races close together, depending on where they are. Here, I don’t know, but the Gulf region is so big,” said Ecclestone.
Speaking to Sport360 at the Grand Prix, the Bahrain International Circuit’s commercial director, Sharif Al Mahdy, explained the decision was one for the F1 race organisers to thrash out with the Qatari Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF) chiefs.
One of said bosses, Nasser bin Khalifa al-Attiyah, said as recently as February that a deal was imminent to bring an F1 race to Qatar, either in Losail or at a new night street race in Doha.
The latter would certainly appear to endanger the future of Bahrain which is in its eleventh year on the Formula One calendar.
Fernando Alonso admits he is concerned after McLaren "had too many problems" with Jenson Button's car ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Button had to stop on track on three out of the four sessions on Friday and Saturday, failing to set a time in qualifying. While Alonso took the MP4-30 through to Q2 for the first time, his main focus is on the reliability issues facing the team and he says McLaren can't think about points before sorting those problems.
"We know the performance is not there but we know how to get there, hopefully soon," Alonso said. "But in terms of reliability we had too many problems, still. With Jenson’s car this weekend, it’s been not so good. So tomorrow, I think we have to try to arrive with both cars at the chequered flag and then whatever position this is, we’ll see how the pace is tomorrow. But we need to finish the race.
"The chequered flag will be the first priority because we’re not in a position at the moment to dream too much, or dream too high. That’s the first thing. It depends. We need to have a little bit of luck if we want to take points. Today, we were the 14th fastest, so it’s difficult to believe tomorrow we’ll be in the first ten. We need some help from the others but I’m happy with everything."
And Alonso admits he was having "some doubts" about this year's McLaren-Honda after dropping out of Q1 in his first two races of the season. Asked if qualifying 14th in Bahrain was a morale boosting result, Alonso replied: "This is the way it is at the moment.
"Everyone in the team is calm, and focused on what we have to do. It’s very easy to panic in this situation when you’re down. But it’s the opposite. The team is hugely motivated because we know we need each other, we are all united. Hopefully we can do two steps in one, so next one will be Q3.
"It’s important. Obviously it’s not the dream come true going to Q2, especially for us because we have higher expectations than going to Q2. We needed the result because we knew we were going in the right direction with the car, the performance but always out of Q1 makes some doubts."
Nico Rosberg says he underestimated how quick Sebastian Vettel would be in qualifying as he was beaten to second place by the Ferrari in Bahrain.
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Lewis Hamilton’s lap in Q2 marked him out as the clear favourite for pole position as he was comfortably clear of the rest of the field, and he duly went on to secure his fourth pole in a row. Rosberg says he had taken it easy in the second part of qualifying in order to look after the tyres he will start the race on, but then had found he couldn't get back to his best in Q3.
“Strategy-wise I got it wrong, because I was thinking too much about the race and I underestimated Sebastian's speed, and also how much it would cost me by taking it easier in quali two on the race-set of tyres,” Rosberg said.
"I just lacked rhythm as a result, I didn't get into a rhythm, and I just had one shot at it in the end with a new set – starting Q3 with a used set – so that's where I went wrong today.
"I'm disappointed because Sebastian beat me. If I was second then it still would have been damage limitation, but being third is not really not ideal."