Bahrain Grand Prix 2018

Okay, I’m not a motorhead. Yes, I did attend the Bahrain Grand Prix last year. Well, I had a good time and for no better reason than that, I again attended the Formula 1 event again this year. Last year, I was basically on a solo mission, as I was just starting to find my way around the Gulf. This year, I teamed up with my friend, former Mines student, and current Aramco geologist, Craig Harran. Since we ran into one another last year, we’ve been hanging out from time to time, attending parties/gatherings at Aramco and zipping over to Bahrain on Tuesday nights for wine-tasting evenings. Not sure how or when it happened, but Craig got in tight with a lively bunch of Bahrainis who have a standing Tuesday night prix fixe wine and cheese tasting event. Anyway, I convinced Craig that we should make a VIP showing at F1 weekend, and here’s how it went down.

The weekend kick-off was a pit lane walk through on Thursday evening. We got to weave through the pits and watch the teams in various states of activity and preparation. Some were simply doing maintenance on their team cars, some were practicing pit maneuvers like lightning-fast tire changing and refueling, and some were off having a cocktail somewhere, not bothering to grace us with their presence.

Pit lane walk through. Click on photos for a larger view.

Popular garages were the perennial favorites Ferrari and Mercedes. To dispel any suspense, just like last year, Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari ultimately won the race, with Mercedes coming in for place and show (Bottas second and Hamilton third).

Through Craig’s wino connections, we scored tickets to the Thursday evening beach party thrown at the Ritz-Carlton, and headed there after the novelty of the pits wore off. The Bahrain Ritz-Carlton sits on the north shore of the island in the Seef district of Manama. The pre-race-weekend party at the R-C is a popular happening, pulling together excellent food, drinks, live music, DJs, dancing, and overall mirth. We pre-gamed with some Aramco folks at an apartment in Manama before heading over to the beach party. Gotta say the evening was a blast.

Race weekend kick-off beach party at the Bahrain Ritz-Carlton Resort.

Throughout the Gulf region, Friday brunch is a big dang deal. Fancy hotels and restaurants go all out – if you’re ever in the Middle East do yourself a favor; ask the locals where the best Friday brunch is happening. I’m sure you’ll get any number of answers. They usually have only one seating, typically running from noon or 12:30 until 4:30 or 5:00. Yes, hours of indulgence.

One resort that just may be the closest to the race track is the Sofitel Thallassa Sea and Spa. It’s on the west side of the island, facing out into the strait that separates Bahrain from Saudi Arabia. I had been to the Sofitel brunch before, and it’s fun and classy and delicious and opulent. Planning ahead, we had made reservations for the race weekend Friday brunch (reservations are a necessity even if it’s not a special weekend), and it was clearly ramped up a notch. Several of the race teams (including drivers!) were staying at the resort for the duration, so it was a place to see and be seen. After catching some of the qualifying rounds and other race practice sessions on Friday morning, we hit the Sofitel for the afternoon. Lively music, superb food, and tasty beverages captivated us for several hours.

Scenes from the Sofitel race-week Friday brunch.

Saturday was again filled with lower tier races and qualifying rounds. The final classification of the F1 grid was settled on Saturday evening with, no surprise, Ferrari and Mercedes coming in 1-4 (Vettel, Raikkonen, Bottas, Hamilton). Not sure why the other teams even bother – hehe. Some of the others must win sometimes, but I don’t follow the sport so I really don’t know.  I have two data points (last year and this), and as far as I can tell, only Ferrari and Mercedes are competitive. In Bahrain.

Our VIP tickets got us into the Grand Prix club, which is basically a beer tent, for lack of a better term. This is a cavernous, air-conditioned hall about the size and appearance of an indoor practice facility for football. We ran into some of the ne’er-do-wells that we had befriended at the Sofitel the day before, and spent time going back and forth from the track to the hospitality tent.

Beer tent, I mean Grand Prix Club.

Outside the track and outside the Club, there’s always crowds of people enjoying the atmosphere, roaming entertainment, kiosks for buying souvenirs (mostly Mercedes and Ferrari gear lol), and lots of food stands. Saturday culminates with a concert, and this year it was Carlos Santana. What? Yep, it was Carlos Santana. Woot! He seemed to be having a blast and the crowd was really into it. A great time all around. We headed back to KSA right at the end of the show, because we both had work on Sunday. F1 marks their weekend calendar like the rest of the world, so they hold the showcase race on Sunday evening. So, we had to shoot back over to Bahrain after work on Sunday to catch the big race.

Outside the track and the Saturday night Santana concert.

Oh yeah, there was a car race, too. The grand finale of the weekend is the big F1 race. It runs for about 2 hours, starting just after 6:00 in the evening. Again positioned in the main grandstand, our seats were low down and just behind the start-finish line. Pretty sweet seats, except you don’t get to see a lot of the maneuvering by the drivers as the slash through the curves – the grandstand stretch is just a long straightaway. The red car won, followed by the two teal cars. The other red car went out because of an incident and didn’t finish the race. So, at least one of the other teams got fourth place.

Great seats, fun crowd, fast cars. The red one on the left won.

So, that’s it for Bahrain Grand Prix weekend 2018. Solid entertainment throughout the weekend; will surely go again next year!

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