When the small island Kingdom of Bahrain hosted its first grand prix on April 4, 2004, it became the first Middle Eastern country to do so. The Kingdom, which is only slightly bigger than the Isle of Man, has just one circuit, the Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) which was purpose designed by Hermann Tilke for the event.
Although entertaining to drive, featuring Tilke's trademark long straights followed by tight corners - most notably the first corner - the track is often criticised for not punishing drivers who stray off track. Its large run-off areas mean it is one of the safest circuits in the world, as such it became the first active F1 circuit to be awarded the distinguished FIA Institute Centre of Excellence award, awarded for having the highest standards of technology for safety, marshalling and medical facilities.
Fearing the venue would not be ready for the 2004 event, organisers attempted to cancel the race, but Bernie Ecclestone refused the request and although the facility was not totally complete the first grand prix went ahead. There were fears that the sand that surrounded the track would blow onto the surface making it impossible to drive, so organisers used a resin on the sand to effectively stick it down and prevent it blowing around. The surface still remains a high-wear track.
The location of the circuit can cause problems for teams and spectators, and attendance figures have been poor, leading to justified criticism that the venue was selected purely because of income and regardless of the lack of a racing culture among locals. Organisers have countered building a fan based from scratch is not a quick task, but there is little evidence of growth to date.
The first race in Bahrain was won by Ferrari's Michael Schumacher, and Fernando Alonso became the first multiple winner of the event taking the honours in the following two years. In 2010, despite changes to the track, the race was so tedious with almost no overtaking that it was dubbed the "Bore-rain Grand Prix".
2011 was meant to see Bahrain open the season, but unrest and violence over the rulers of the country saw it postponed and eventually cancelled. Progress was slow, however, and the 2012 race was in doubt throughout the winter as trouble escalated, but now looks set to take place amid protests.
Although drinking alcohol is not banned in Bahrain, unlike its neighbour Saudi Arabia, drivers are not given champagne on the podium. Instead they spray a non alcoholic rosewater drink known as Waard.