Stephanie Gerken and her husband Paul travelled from the UK to the 2019 Bahrain Grand Prix. Here’s their detailed report and advice for fellow fans considering the trip.
We have recently enjoyed our first trip to the Bahrain Grand Prix. Although we are well travelled F1 fans (67 races for me and 70 for my husband Paul) we found there wasn’t too much practical information on Bahrain available online so have pulled together some thoughts which will hopefully help future race goers.
Travel to Bahrain
We flew from London Heathrow on a direct flight to Manama, the capital city of Bahrain. It’s a reasonably short flight at just over 6 hours. I understand that due to its location in the Middle East, Bahrain is also well served by Emirates flights via Dubai.
A visa is required but if you are visiting for the F1 this is free and available when you arrive. At immigration, there are clearly marked F1 desks where you need to show your ticket. The ticket itself is stamped and there is also a visa entry stamp in your passport. When we arrived there were no queues and this was a quick and efficient process. I believe that before you travel you can apply online for a visa but my own experience would suggest there isn’t a huge benefit to this.
The airport is close to the city and can be reached in less than 30 minutes. We had a pre-booked private transfer although the circuit provided shuttle buses may have been an option for us (see below).
We stayed at the Jumeirah Royal Saray which was on the beach in the Seef area. We would definitely recommend it! It was a beautiful hotel with good facilities including a pool and several restaurants and the service was excellent. It was a bit of a treat though. There seemed to be quite a selection of other hotels in the Seef area so there would be something to suit all budgets.
For those driving, the circuit seemed easy to find from the city with ample parking. Taxis are also available and I believe cost in the region of £30 each way, perhaps an option if there are a few sharing.
We chose to make use of the free circuit provided shuttle buses during our trip. We were informed that we needed to show our race tickets to use them but never actually did. The shuttle buses run from a number of hotels in Manama and are organised on a ‘by area’ basis. I understand that you don’t need to be staying in one of the named hotels to use the buses but our own experience would suggest it would be much easier if you were. Information is published about two weeks before the race. This details the hotels at which the buses will stop and a start time and an end time for the service on each day. The buses run once per hour on the hour. This is all broadly true but there is also an element of waiting for buses to fill rather than running to a strict timetable, especially when returning from the circuit.
In the reception area of our hotel, a member of staff from the circuit was present each day. Each morning, we booked onto the first bus of the day at 10am and she made sure that the bus for our area stopped at the hotel to pick us up. We were told that we needed to give 30 minutes notice and this worked fine but I’m not sure if as the day went on more notice would be required as the buses would be busier. From the hotel, the bus would make a number of stops to pick up other fans (I assume depending on who had booked on).
For the return journey, the buses waited on parking area P10. This was clearly signed as ‘bus station’. There was a bus for each area and although finding the right bus was a little chaotic there was someone on hand to help – if you said the name of your hotel then they would show you to the right bus. As the weekend went on, the buses started to have a sign in the window stating the names of the hotels they would be dropping off at.
The journey time to/from the circuit is around 30 minutes but on some days, we found it took around an hour due to traffic and the number of hotel drop offs. Overall, we found the service to be good considering it was free shared transport. I understand that the shuttle service extends to an airport to hotel and hotel to airport runs which begin on the Monday before the Grand Prix and ends on the Monday after. Although we didn’t make use of this, we did see lots of circuit staff at the airport when we arrived and our circuit lady was at our hotel for most of the day on Monday, suggesting it was in place and was reasonably well organised.
Entering the Circuit
Each day we entered the circuit through Gate 8 which was the closest public gate to the bus parking. Food and drink is prohibited although there didn’t appear to be too many other unreasonable restrictions (unlike other circuits where have been prevented from taking in sun cream and power banks!). All bags and people have to go through security scanners but our experience was this was a more efficient process than the traditional bag searches. This may be because we arrived early each day but we personally had no real hold up getting into the circuit. Tickets have to be scanned at a turnstile. Again these seemed to work much better than some of the hand held scanners we have encountered at other races. You also needed to scan out on leaving the circuit, even on race day.
We chose the Oasis Complex (Batelco) grandstand and were pleased with our choice. We would have liked seats higher up and if we were to return to Bahrain would certainly request this. A significant percentage of the track can be seen from this grandstand though the cars are at some distance away. There is a TV screen opposite this grandstand with a good quality picture once it started to go dark. It was not so great when the sun was on it making it difficult to view action earlier in the day such as the F2 races. As there is no Friday roving access in Bahrain, we can’t comment on how this grandstand compares to others.
Food & Drink
Food and drink were available in the fan zone behind the main grandstand and also within our grandstand. I would assume the same applied to other areas of the circuit but cannot say from experience. Drinks were reasonably priced at around £1 for water and soft drinks. Food was more expensive but the hot food we bought was very tasty. Our favourite was the ‘crazy fries’ which were around £5. I would say drinks were cheaper than most other circuits, hot food about the going rate. There was no hot food available in our grandstand, only snacks such as sandwiches, crisps, biscuits.
Alcohol is only available within the hospitality tent which we personally did not take up. However, we did find out a few details from a fellow fan that we made friends with during our trip. The tent cost around £135 for a 3 day entry ticket and this is in addition to your grandstand ticket. Once inside the hospitality, beer is available to purchase at around £10 per pint. A selection of food is also available (again to purchase) although our new friend felt that the selection this year was not as good as at previous races.
A note that in general alcohol is not widely available in Bahrain. It can be bought in some hotels and restaurants but not all. It cannot be bought at the supermarkets. Where it is available it is expensive. So something to bear in mind if a few (relatively cheap) beers are an essential part of your F1 weekend. It is permitted to import alcohol into Bahrain (at the time of writing 1 litre of spirits and 6 cans of beer per person) so bringing your own is an option.
Trackside Activities & Entertainment
We went to the circuit on Thursday afternoon/evening for the pit lane walk. Although there were some issues around the gate opening times for this, we otherwise found this well organised and much quieter than other pit walks we’ve done. It was uncrowded, easier to move around and provided good photo opportunities. The pit walk is not an autograph session so don’t expect to see any F1 drivers, although we did see Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi being interviewed by Sky. If you’ve never done a pit walk before or have no plans for Thursday evening it’s definitely worth a visit.
An autograph session was held on Sunday around 3 hours before the race. This took place in the stage area behind the main grandstand. We didn’t attend this but it appeared to be well organised with queues for each team. Not all drivers were present at the same time so it would probably have been possible to get autographs from one team and then queue for others, particularly with drivers from some of the smaller teams. Though as you would expect the queues for the top drivers were pretty big and I’m sure some people would have left disappointed.
We also get ourselves busy driver spotting and I was fortunate enough to get a photo with all 20 of the current F1 drivers, including my first ever with Kimi. It wasn’t something I ever had any intention of trying to do but It certainly feels like an achievement and one which made the weekend extra special. We really enjoyed the carnival atmosphere in the fan zone. There were lots of different types of roving ‘street entertainers’ and an excellent band. On Friday and Saturday there was two free concerts (DJ’s) and although we didn’t stay for these there was a great buzz and a big crowd.
Free wifi is available at the circuit and although this could be a bit intermittent, especially on race day when the crowds were bigger, we did find this a useful service and one which we’ve not come across at other circuits.
The weather was warm and sunny during our trip but we’d recommend taking a jumper or light jacket to wear in the evenings. We did find that the circuit got a little chilly after sunset and there seemed to be quite a breeze into our grandstand so an extra layer came in handy.
There didn’t seem to be any issue in appropriate dress for women. Although local culture is for modesty, we did see visitors wearing strapless and sleeveless tops and dresses and shorts and dresses well above the knee. I personally felt more comfortable in t-shirts and knee length shorts but the attitude to dress code was a liberal one.
We really enjoyed our trip to Bahrain and felt it was very much a hidden jewel in the desert. The circuit usually delivers a good race and this combined with sunshine, a nice relaxed atmosphere and reasonably straightforward travel made this an excellent choice for us. I suspect we will be back!