Motorsport: Bahrain Grand Prix falls victim to unrest
The Formula One season will begin in Melbourne on March 27 after the Bahrain Grand Prix was called off yesterday after days of feverish speculation.
With the world watching on, and in the face of mounting criticism that the decision was taking so long to reach as commercial and legal interests held sway, Bahrain's rulers eventually informed Bernie Ecclestone yesterday afternoon that they did not consider the event appropriate following last week's bloody violence and ongoing civil unrest.
The question now is whether Ecclestone, the chief executive of Formula One Management, will be able to find a date for them later in the year; or whether the civilians of the island kingdom will be able to stomach it if he does.
In its statement yesterday afternoon, the Bahrain International Circuit appeared at first to rule out a postponement when it said it had "withdrawn from hosting this year's F1 Grand Prix race so that the country can focus on its process of national dialogue". However, it ended by saying: "No decision has been made on a new date for the rescheduling of the race."
The FIA, F1's governing body, added weight to the postponement theory when it noted, in only its third official statement of the past week, that it supported the decision "to postpone" the March 13 race.
If that is the case, the only realistic date would appear to be November 20, the Sunday after the penultimate race in Abu Dhabi. That would mean either a triple-header with the season-ending Brazilian GP or pushing the Interlagos race back a week into December.
The only other possibility is in the August break, but not only would temperatures be stiflingly hot, this is when team personnel can finally wind down for a few weeks during all the congestion.
The 2011 season is already unprecedented in terms of its length and amount of races. Effectively, Ecclestone would be trying to squeeze a 21st race into the calendar.
However, where there is a will there is a way, and sources suggest that if Bahrain's rulers want to show they are "open for business" then Ecclestone will move heaven and earth to make it happen for a valued customer. It is unclear when that decision will be made.
It is understood that the major reason the decision to call off the race took so long to arrive at was because Ecclestone's Formula One Management needed the Bahrainis to make it for legal, insurance and commercial reasons.
Bahrain is believed to pay around $40m for the race, plus $20m for the privilege of hosting the opening event. "We look forward to being back in Bahrain soon," Ecclestone said.
It was also announced yesterday that the final pre-season test scheduled for March 3 at the Sakhir circuit has been cancelled, with the 12 teams opting to remain at the Barcelona circuit instead. The new test date will be March 8-11. (© Daily Telegraph, London)