The Bahrain Grand Prix attracted a race day audience of 28,000 on Sunday. It has a crowd capacity of about 32,000. This may not sound like much, particularly given that the event has been going for 10 years. This is perhaps a little strange given that Bahrain clearly has a car society. I asked after the race for the historical crowd figures and the circuit people were as helpful as always and the numbers made interesting reading.
In 2004 the first event attracted 68,000 people over the three days. The following year that went up to 75,000 and in 2006 to 77,000. There was then a significant leap in 2007 to 90,000 and 100,000 in 2008. The numbers were slightly down in 2009 with 93,680 but returned to 100,000 again in 2010. At that point the global economic crisis hit Bahrain and and in 2011 the unrest resulting from demands for more democracy caused the race to be cancelled. Last year the event returned to the F1 calendar amid much controversy and the crowd was down to 70,000.
I bumped into the chairman of the circuit Zayed Al-Zayani in the early hours of Monday at Bahrain airport. We were both on the 03.50 Emirates flight to Dubai, along with a large number of F1 folk, and we had a chat about this year’s event, which he deemed to have been a success. He said that the primary drop in spectator numbers since 2010 was due to the big banks in Bahrain running into trouble and no longer inviting large numbers of corporate VIPs and rewarding their staff with F1 tickets.
There is no doubt that some international and corporate visitors have been scared away by the troubles. However, it is reckoned that about 90 percent of the spectators are Bahrainis. It should be remembered that the country has a population of only 1.3 million and that in the Muslim world Sunday is a working day, rather than the weekend. We noted this on the way to the track at 08.00 on Sunday when we found ourselves passing a traffic jam of commuters several miles long, going into Manama as we were going out.
Al Zayani said that he was encouraged by the increase in the three-day figure to 73,000 this year, mainly because a lot of them were corporate guests and he believes that confidence is returning.