Although the Bahrain Grand Prix didn’t come into being until the start of this century, the Bahrain Motor Federation has actually been around since 1952. On December 12 of that year the first officially-sanctioned event took place in Bahrain, which was open to all drivers and motorcyclists in the country. This was closely followed by a second competition in January 1953, which took the form of a two-hour treasure hunt. In total, there were around 100 members.
Thanks to support from the Bahraini royal family in particular, and a partnership with the famous Automobile Association (AA) in the United Kingdom, the club went from strength to strength over the years. In 1973, its first rally was organised (Bahrain would continue to play a part in the Middle East Rally Championship right up until 2005) while other motorsport events included hill climbing and autocross.
In 2000, the Bahrain Motor Federation joined the FIA – the governing body of world motorsport – and two years later it announced its intention to build the current grand prix circuit, at a cost of $75 million dollars.
Since those early days, not only has Bahrain itself changed beyond recognition, but its grand prix has also provided a remarkably accurate forecast as to who will go on to win the world championship.
It happened in the first year (2004) with Michael Schumacher, who won the Grand Prix and was crowned champion at the end of the year. We saw the same outcome for Fernando Alonso, winner of the Bahrain Grand Prix and then World Champion in 2005 and 2006, and again for Jenson Button, who came first in the race and then was champion in 2009.
Sebastian Vettel was first over the line in Bahrain twice in his golden four years at Red Bull; and in 2014 and 2015 Lewis Hamilton was winner in Bahrain and world champion as well. In 2016, the eventual world champion Nico Rosberg won in Bahrain, but the pattern was broken in 2017: Sebastian Vettel clinched the Bahrain Grand Prix but not the title at the end of the year (although he came close). In 2018, it was Vettel who triumphed again (and who finished second again in the championship).
Out of the 14 grands prix that have been held so far in Bahrain, nine have been won by the man who became world champion at the end of the year. And only once has it ever been won by a driver who didn’t eventually finish in the top two of the final championship standings (Felipe Massa in 2007). That’s quite some strike rate. So, pay very close attention as to who crosses the finish line first on Sunday.