There was a spot of good financial news for Formula One in times of economic belt tightening as Gulf Air signed a new five-year deal with the Formula One Association to extend its existing sponsorship of the Bahrain Grand Prix.
On a day when Renault title sponsor ING received a E10bn cash injection from the Dutch government, the national carrier of the Kingdom of Bahrain prolonged a deal that has made it synonymous with the Sakhir event, the pair having debuted together in April 2004 at the first F1 grand prix to be held in the Middle East.
"We are delighted and proud to extend our association with the sport of Formula One," Gulf Air chief executive Björn Näf said during the signing ceremony in Shanghai prior to the weekend's Chinese Grand Prix, "Business-friendly Bahrain is the home of motorsport in the Middle East and our continued alliance with this world-class event reinforces our pioneering spirit and our support of the growth and development of the Kingdom of Bahrain."
"Gulf Air is a proud ambassador for Bahrain and takes its role in supporting the country's diversification in areas such as tourism very seriously. Motorsport events such as the F1 draw thousands of fans from across the Middle East and the international community allowing the Kingdom to reap the associated economic benefits. Indeed, Bahrain is experiencing a real boom in tourism and business travel and Gulf Air is a hugely important part of that. We look forward to welcoming visitors to Bahrain, whether Formula One-related or not, for many years to come."
Gulf Air's sponsorship of the Bahrain Grand Prix is one of a number of sports-related deals it is involved in, including a shirt sponsorship for Queens Park Rangers FC in the UK. That relationship not only raises the profile of the airline in a key market, but also reinforces the ties with F1 thanks to Bernie Ecclestone's involvement with the club, along with several other high-profile F1 personalities.
"We are delighted that Gulf Air has extended its title sponsorship of the Bahrain Grand Prix," Ecclestone noted, "The race in Bahrain is one of the highlights of the Formula One calendar and I am looking forward to going back there in April 2009."