Feet sinking, slip-sliding into soft, silken desert sand as I trudge across a dimly lit no man’s land, Formula 1 cars racing all around through an Arabian night. Photographing the Bahrain Grand Prix can sometimes feel more than slightly surreal!
From helicopter television shots from on high the Sakhir circuit looks for all the world like a sparkling jewel, twinkling brightly in a sea of black on this barren island in the Gulf.
Trackside, of course, the F1 photographers – shaking sand from their shoes! – are working hard to make this challenging track look as pretty as possible.
Back in the days of daytime only F1 starts this venue was a wholly different affair. Looking for all the world like a 1980s arcade racing game, the circuit presented a bland, almost monochrome, vision of desert-based action to the drivers, photographers and TV viewers.
Reminiscing about the recent past I may sound negative but that’s really not my intention. I used to approach this early season event with a particular style in mind. Desaturated, almost bleached out colours were prominent in my thoughts. There were no garish coloured lights or fake wadi lakes – as there are now – to inspire the lensmen present then. All white sand and black Tarmac, the Crown Prince’s race was unique in its visual mien.
I lobbied hard. Badgered the London-based design agency to add some colour. “Why not paint some track-edging stripes, some Arabic-style letters and shapes in bright hues?” I questioned. “Look at the way the Paul Ricard circuit in France improved their visual impact by simply applying some red and blue stripes.”
After way too long my pressure paid off. Blue, green, yellow, red, white and blue splashes of colour suddenly appeared for the 2009 grand prix. How we rejoiced!
Now that the race takes place predominantly at night, the circuit has taken on an entirely different and wholly positive feel.
Shockingly red-sky sunsets, rapidly shifting to gorgeous shades of yellow, orange, purple and blue with the inevitable jet black of night to follow provide a wonderful backdrop to the sparkling cars sprinting along the brightly lit track. Cleverly, the circuit designers have floodlit rock faces, put twinkling lights on thickets of strategically placed palm trees, attached shimmering red and white LED decorations to the nation’s flag-field adjacent to the run to Turn 4, and placed bright blue bulbs at the water’s edge to illuminate small circular lakes with fountains at their centre gushing high.
Yes one could argue it’s all a tad tasteless, a little Disneyland in feel, but I love it! Track owners and promoters could and have taken inspiration from the Bahrainis, improving the visual impact and therefore the global reach of their expensive venues strikes me as an obvious approach in an increasingly crowded market.
Firmly ensconced as an enjoyable event in the F1 year, the Bahrain Grand Prix deserves its place.
Next up, China. An entirely different challenge!