PLANS for the 2011 season have been plunged into chaos after Bahrain pulled out of staging the curtain-raising grand prix less than three weeks before the race.
The Gulf kingdom’s crown prince informed Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone of his decision yesterday afternoon, bringing to an end days of speculation following civil unrest that last week claimed six lives.
Bahrain had been due to stage the race on 13 March; instead the new season will begin with the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on 27 March. A rescheduled date in Bahrain later this year has not been ruled out but remained mired in uncertainty last night.
“At the present time the country’s entire attention is focused on building a new national dialogue for Bahrain,” said Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa.
“We felt it was important for the country to focus on immediate issues of national interest and leave the hosting of Bahrain’s Formula One race to a later date.”
Bahrain has been an annual stop on the F1 tour since 2004 and the sport’s commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone hinted it would return.
“It is sad that Bahrain has had to withdraw from the race. We wish the whole nation well as they begin to heal their country,” he said. “The hospitality and warmth of the people of Bahrain is a hallmark of the race there, as anyone who has been at a Bahrain Grand Prix will testify. We look forward to being back in Bahrain soon.”
Motorsport’s governing body the FIA welcomed the decision and lent weight to predictions that Bahrain will be incorporated into the season at a later date by calling the move a “postponement”, rather than a cancellation. Teams were set to ship their cars to Bahrain this week for the final pre-season testing session, but that will take place in Barcelona instead, where teams have been testing over the weekend.
Red Bull driver Mark Webber, who will instead start the season on home soil, said: “It would have been nice to go to Bahrain, but we have to wait a bit longer to have our first race and that just happens to be my home race.”
NEED TO KNOW | BAHRAIN
Q.why has the bahrain grand prix been called off at such short notice?
A.Organisers were forced to act amid growing fears for the safety of the event, caused by political uncertainty in the country. Protesters, six of whom were killed last week, are unhappy at the monarchy’s grip on power and had threatened to target the grand prix on 13 March.
Q.could the race be moved to another country?
A.No, as there isn’t enough time to organise the logistics of such a huge event at short notice. Instead the season will begin two weeks later than planned in Australia.
Q.will the bahrain race be rescheduled?
A.It is not known at this stage, but tellingly it has not been ruled out. Bahrain is still a popular race on the calendar but much will depend on how political matters unfold.