Bahrain is still in the race, and the race is still in Bahrain

With Abu Dhabi expected to announce its contract for a grand prix this coming Saturday, you'd be forgiven for thinking Bahrain was off the grid. You'd be forgiven, but you'd be wrong.

The small Gulf state has hosted the Bahrain Grand Prix since 2004 with an exclusive contract for the only F1 race in the entire Middle East & North Africa region, and though nobody outside the organization knows the precise terms of the contract – namely, when the exclusivity clause expires – insiders estimate that it runs out in 2008, leaving the door open for Abu Dhabi to host its own race as early as 2009. But that doesn't mean the Bahrain Grand Prix is history – they spent $150 million to build the Sakhir track and have yet to recuperate all the costs. Casting a shadow over the impending festivities in Abu Dhabi, Bahrain has announced its extending its contract with Bernie Ecclestone, possibly all the way through 2019.

The question remains over how many F1 races the region can support. With a small population, Bahrain was banking on attracting spectators (read: tourists) from all over the Middle East, but the grandstands have been conspicuously empty. And though the geo-political debate continues over Turkey's situation in Europe or the Middle East, either way it's not far away, bordering Syria, Iran and Iraq. Abu Dhabi is banking on its grand prix becoming just one part of the Yas Island development, but with that many races in a region where F1 is still an emerging field, it may be too much too fast. Then again, that's what F1 is all about.

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