F1: Bahrain GP called off due to civil unrest
The Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 27 will now be the first event of the season.
London: The season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix on March 13 was called off on Monday due to unrest in the country, but organisers hope the race can be re-scheduled later in the year.
The final pre-season test scheduled for March 3 at the Sakhir circuit south of Manama was also cancelled and the 12 teams instead opted to remain at the Barcelona circuit in Spain.
The decision to give up on the race, announced in a statement but already considered a foregone conclusion in F1 circles, means the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 27 will now be the first event on what was planned to be a record 20-round calendar.
"The Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) today announced that the Kingdom of Bahrain would withdraw from hosting this year's F1 Grand Prix race so that the country can focus on its process of national dialogue," the Bahrain statement said.
It added that Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, who is also deputy supreme commander of Bahrain's armed forces, had told Formula One's commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone in a telephone call.
"At the present time the country's entire attention is focused on building a new national dialogue for Bahrain," said the crown prince.
"Although Bernie Ecclestone had graciously made clear that a decision on the race was entirely Bahrain's to make and was not yet required, 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."
Seven people have been killed and hundreds injured in a crackdown against protesters demanding more say in the Gulf Arab kingdom.
King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has asked his son, the crown prince, to conduct a dialogue with all parties.
"I hope that F1 and our friends around the world will understand our decision at this difficult time," said Bahrain International Circuit chairman Zayed Alzayani.
Ecclestone, a key figure in helping Bahrain become the first country in the West Asia to host a Formula One race, sympathised.
"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," the 80-year-old 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."
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, whose team are world champions, agreed.
"It's obviously a great shame for Bahrain but totally understandable with the problems they face," he told Reuters after team bosses had discussed what to do about the scheduled test at Sakhir.
Horner and Williams chairman Adam Parr said teams had agreed the final test of the season would be held at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya from March 8-11, with cars and freight to be flown to Australia on the 15th.
The race at Sakhir could be slotted in at the end of the calendar but that could be difficult, with the final grand prix currently scheduled for Brazil on Nov. 27 after a penultimate round in Abu Dhabi on Nov. 13.
Bahrain was the first race to be called off since the Pacific Grand Prix at Aida in Japan in 1995 had to be rescheduled due to a major earthquake in the region.
Bahrain first staged a Formula One grand prix in 2004.
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