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Bahrain F1 chief explains key factor missing in Middle East motorsports

Formula 1 has never had a driver from the Middle East compete in the series - but the region is currently developing its presence in the motorsport world as it strives towards the goal.

Bahrain flag
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Bahrain Grand Prix CEO Sheikh Salman bin Isa al-Khalifa has explained why there is a lack of Middle Eastern drivers competing in high-level motorsport categories.

The region has increased its Formula 1 presence over the last two decades, with Bahrain hosting the first Middle-Eastern event in 2004.

It was joined by Abu Dhabi in 2009 before Saudi Arabia and Qatar held their inaugural races in 2021.

However, there has never been an F1 driver from the Middle East and the sport's direct feeder series' Formula 2 and Formula 3 are not fielding a competitor from the area this year.

Speaking exclusively to RacingNews365, Sheikh Salman explained that Europe's rate of producing drivers is currently too strong to compete against.

“I think we are early on that journey, we need to focus on the numbers coming out of karting,” he said.

“If you compare it to Europe, 3,000 kids are karting. If you follow them, you know when they go professionally and [move through] F3, F2, you'll end up with four [drivers].

“Take that same number, [compare to] how many people are karting in these four countries, let alone the Middle East, [it’s] about a couple of hundred, maybe 1,000. And these 1,000 have to be better or compete against the Europeans.

“Because we have these four countries now, we are in the strongest position to build the fan base and grow collectively our F1 or motorsport fans and yet have the platform for them to go in.

“The platform is there. We just need the numbers to go through and we're opening it up for everyone. So hopefully, we will see.”

'It will happen'

The F1 Academy, an all-female racing series that is in its second season, will see sisters Amna Al Qubaisi and Hamda Al Qubaisi, who race under a United Arab Emirates licence, compete for MP Motorsport this year.

Reema Juffali will also race in the opening round of the new season in Saudi Arabia this weekend.

While Sheikh Salman is seeing growth in driver development, he stated that the region is still adapting to the measures that must be taken to mature a successful driver.

“I think for me, this region is not used to sponsoring kids or people in motorsports,” he said.

“It is something in Europe, you have years of that. I think [also] there were never the numbers.

“Abu Dhabi started with their academy. We had Hamad Al Fardan in GP2 Asia. We had Salman Al Khalifa who won the Asian BMW Championship. So there were [drivers in the] early days. It's just that it never continued.

“We don't have the driver managers that want to go to the parents and say, ‘I’m going to take your kid and go all the way’.

“Now in karting, we've got six, seven teams run by Bahrainis, they have under them a good number of kids. They need education, connections, all of that.

“Eventually, it all has to move to Europe and they have to compete there. And that, that, if we were doing it for x amount here, it's times whatever, when you go to Europe and it's costly.

“I think it will happen. But it has to happen the right way. It shouldn’t be the money that puts someone there.”

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