“To make membership accessible to all motoring fans and everyone else with an interest, to encourage good relations among members and set high driving standards. All this will bring benefits for Bahrain and the country's future.” With these brief but effective words, in March 1953 the newborn Bahrain Motor Federation (BMF, founded the previous November) explained its goals in the newspapers “Al-Khamila” and “Al-Quafilah” and opened its doors to its first members. In the second half of the twentieth century, what had originally been a small, very exclusive club in the archipelago of the Persian Gulf (33 islands close to Saudi Arabia and Qatar), grew and developed with large-scale promotion of motorsports – and the love of cars in general – in the country, preparing it to become one of the world’s most prestigious federations.
65 years after this message was published in the papers, Bahrain is one of the Arabian countries with the greatest motorsport traditions and one of the world's most important circuits: the Bahrain International Circuit in Shakir, on the outskirts of the capital, Manama, has hosted a leg of the Formula Uno World Championship every year since 2004, and from 30 November through 1 December of this year it will host the first FIA GT Nations Cup – just a week after the FIA GT World Cup in Macao, also organised by Stéphane Ratel's SRO. Two Italians, Matteo Cressoni and Piergiuseppe Perazzini, will be participating at the wheel of their Ferrari. In this event for Silver and Bronze drivers, every country can enter only one car driven, by one of its own drivers, in livery recalling the colours of its flag to make it easily recognisable for fans.
The arrival of the FIA GT Nations Cup in the Middle East is only the latest piece to be added to a mosaic built over the years, piece after piece, by the Al Khalifa family's kingdom (and former emirate) to bring prestige to the country, as motorsports once did in Europe. At the start of the last century, automobiles came to the Old World from the top down, and were considered a luxury item intended solely for the elite for many years before trickling down to the masses. The automobile was seen as a way of bringing glory to a nation, of showing off its primacy in all fields, from industry to sports.
Bahrain’s motoring tradition is borrowed from western culture, for it was Europeans who first brought a motor vehicle to the country’s coasts in 1914, triggering a fascination that was destined to grow to maturity in the second half of the century. The number of vehicles on the road began to grow, slowly at first and then at an exponential rate: the country had only two hundred cars on its roads in 1930, and four hundred in 1945, but from then on growth speeded up thanks to the development of the oil industry, which brought new prosperity and vertical economic growth. By the mid '50s there were about 3500 automobiles on the roads of Bahrain, thanks in part to the foundation of the BMF. In that decade the federation regularly organised events and continued to strengthen its roots in the country. The new organisation’s elite membership, primarily consisting of illustrious members of the country’s most prestigious families, facilitated links with the British Automobile Association (AA) and the Alliance Internationale de Tourisme (AIT), which helped to strengthen the institution of the BMF.
In the new millennium, Bahrain's relationship with motor vehicles has become a symbiotic one: the country has one of the world’s highest rates of paved roads (82%), and an average of about one car for every three people. Motorsports clearly play a key role in the country’s culture, and are one of the most popular interests of the people and particularly the upper class.
Many Arabian countries without an established motoring tradition have been attempting to import motorsport culture in recent years, primarily the United Arab Emirates, with the events in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Bahrain, on the other hand, can count on a proven, acknowledged love of motorsports, rewarded in 2004 with the assignment of the first F1 Grand Prix in the Arab world. This long-lasting relationship has now made this tiny kingdom a leader in a region that wishes to claim its place as a world-class motorsports hub.