Bahrain begins 60-day countdown

The last time Schumacher raced in Bahrain it was in his red Ferrari

Bahrain yesterday began its official 60-day countdown to the 2010 Formula One Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix. The race weekend, which takes place from March 12 to 14 at Bahrain International Circuit (BIC), is set to be an historic occasion for the sport as it celebrates its Diamond Jubilee (60th anniversary).

The Bahrain Grand Prix will be the opening round of the 2010 F1 World Championship, and it will be highlighted by the much anticipated return to racing of seven-time F1 World Champion Michael Schumacher.

Schumacher's comeback already has the kingdom abuzz with F1 fever, and this was evident yesterday as BIC launched its promotional campaign for the kingdom's F1 weekend.

"Michael Schumacher is the biggest name in F1," said BIC chief executive Martin Whitaker at a Press conference at the circuit's Paddock Club. "He's a superstar, and he's going to be making his comeback here in Bahrain. All eyes around the world will be on us."

Whitaker later revealed to the GDN: "We will definitely be doing something with Michael Schumacher in promoting our race."

Whitaker spoke at yesterday's conference alongside BIC chief operating officer Shaikh Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa and Gulf Air chief commercial officer Kyle Haywood.

Together, they unveiled Bahrain's campaign slogan for the upcoming Grand Prix: 'Race Number One', which symbolizes not only the fantastic opportunity Bahrain has in opening the F1 season but also acknowledges the kingdom's elite status among the most popular Grands Prix on the F1 calendar.

"We're number one, it's a great position to be in," Whitaker said. "We have the chance to show the world what we have to offer, and because of that, we have been awarded with the first race."

Gulf Air are also commemorating their Diamond Jubilee, and as national carriers and title sponsors of the Bahrain Grand Prix, they will be joining in F1's celebrations.

Schumacher is coming out of retirement is only one of the many appealing storylines for the upcoming Bahrain Grand Prix.

It will also be the first time in over a decade that F1 fans will see the German in a race suit that does not bear the Prancing Horse logo. The 41-year-old, who yesterday tested in a GP2 car in Jerez (Spain), has left Ferrari, with whom he won five of his World titles, to join former boss Ross Brawn at Mercedes GP and team up with young ace Nico Rosberg to form a devastating German partnership.

The Bahrain Grand Prix will also be the first time fans will see all 13 teams, represented by 26 cars, lining up on the grid at the same time. It will mark the largest Grand Prix entry in over 20 years.

Of the 13 teams, four are new – Lotus, Campos Meta, Virgin Racing, and USF1. They will be joining Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes, Red Bull, Renault, Williams, BMW Sauber, Toro Rosso and Force India.

Schumacher and Rosberg are not the only new driver combination that has race fans on the edge of their seats. Reining World Champion Jenson Button has now paired up with his predecessor Lewis Hamilton for an all-British alliance that rivals their German counterparts at Mercedes.

Bahrain will also see the return to the cockpit of popular Brazilian driver Felipe Massa, who was out for much of last season after a freak accident in the middle of the year. Massa will be suiting up this season next to former double World Champion Fernando Alonso, who has replaced Kimi Raikkonen.

Further, Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber will be out to improve on their six race victories and 16 podiums from last season.

Vettel and Webber, along with Force India's Adrian Sutil and Vitantonio Liuzzi, are the only teams returning with the same driver line-up from last year.

Meanwhile, Rubens Barrichello, Robert Kubica, Timo Glock, Jarno Trulli, Heikki Kovalainen and Kamui Kobayashi will all be seen racing with new outfits, while former Bahrain-based driver Sebastien Buemi will be back at Toro Rosso with a yet-to-be-named partner.

Several youngsters will also be making their F1 debuts, led by reigning GP2 Series champion Nico Hulkenberg who will be paired up with Barrichello at Williams. Two others to have been confirmed so far are Brazilians Lucas di Grassi and Bruno Senna, the nephew of legendary F1 driver Ayrton Senna, while six race seats still remain.

"With all these attractions, Bahrain will be the focal point of the sporting world during the week of the Grand Prix," Whitaker said. "We are the first race of the season, and we have a lot to offer."

Tickets for the Bahrain Grand Prix can now be purchased by calling the BIC Hotline on 17450000, on, or at the BIC stands in Seef Mall or Bahrain City Centre.

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