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F1 Schedule Middle East

Shifted F1 Schedule Boosts Middle East Attendance

17/03/2024

This year’s unique schedule shift for the Bahrain and Saudi Arabian Grands Prix notably improved local fan turnout and TV ratings.

This year, the Bahrain and Saudi Arabian Grands Prix took place just a week apart; notably, due to Ramadan, the schedule was moved up a day: free practice sessions occurred on Thursday, qualifying on Friday, and the race on Sunday.

This shift bodes well for local attendance. In the Middle East, ‘weekend’ days most commonly fall on Friday and Saturday, with Sunday being a workday.

As a result, local fans suddenly had more free time to attend both qualifying and the race, which was evident in the increased circuit attendance and TV viewership.

This raises a logical question: should races in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Abu Dhabi henceforth be held on Saturdays every year?

Martin Whitaker, CEO of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, has already initiated discussions with Stefano Domenicali to this effect.

“We’ve actually had this conversation with him. Absolutely.”

“My chairman, Prince Khalid, discussed this very point with Sheikh Salman and Stefano in Bahrain.”

“It’s a good idea. The teams find it easier; it’s better for them as much of the staff can be home by Sunday.”

“One of the perks of being in the Middle East is the ability to catch a 2 a.m. flight and arrive at Heathrow (London) by 6 a.m., or in Paris, or wherever one wishes to go in Europe.”

“There are numerous advantages to hosting the event on the country’s weekend. I believe we have something that could work, and there’s no doubt, looking at Bahrain this year, that I’m absolutely convinced.”

“I’m sure Sheikh Salman would tell you, but this race was a success, and they hit the jackpot in terms of numbers, with the weekend factor.”

“The difference is massive.”

Whitaker invites us to consider a cultural shift: what would we say in Europe if races took place on Monday?

“I was in Bahrain on Friday and found the circuit atmosphere absolutely fantastic.”

“It’s always nice, but I felt it was a notch above. I was in town that morning, and the vibe in town was completely different.”

“Because it was the weekend, everyone thought: ‘Actually, this is our weekend. We don’t have to worry about going to work on Monday or leaving work early to go to the race, or leaving the track late on Sunday night, which is a workday, and feeling groggy the next morning to go to work.'”

“I think it made a huge difference, and the same can be said of our event.”

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