F1: Bahrain Grand Prix called off, GP2 Asia too

The organisers of the Bahrain Grand Prix have decided to pull out of hosting the opening Grand Prix of the 2011 season.

Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa – the moving force behind Bahrain’s entry into the sport of F1 and who made the building of the Sakhir International Circuit a reality – informed Bernie Ecclestone of the decision on Monday afternoon.

“We felt it was important for the country to focus on immediate issues of national interest,” he said in a statement. “Bahrain’s priority is on overcoming tragedy, healing divisions and rediscovering the fabric that draws this country together to remind the world of the very best that Bahrain is capable of as a nation once again united.”

“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,” said Ecclestone. “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.”

Ecclestone had been much criticised in the UK for leaving the decision to the Crown Prince despite the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office issuing advice to citizens over the weekend not to travel to Bahrain for anything other than essential purposes for as long as the political unrests and protests continued.

The Grand Prix was considered a particular target for protesters, as it was the Crown Prince’s personal project. The possibility of the protest groups disrupting the event on live international television has seemingly persuaded the Crown Prince that the embarrassment of postponing was the lesser of the available evils.

The Bahrain Grand Prix had been due to run from March 11 to 13. It’s possible that the race may be rescheduled later in the season if the political situation in Bahrain is resolved and tensions ease, but it’s difficult to see when it could be slotted back into an already crowded season still consisting of 19 races.

The pre-season test due on March 3 at the same circuit will also now not go ahead, and instead will take place at the Barcelona circuit.

The first Grand Prix of 2011 will now default to Melbourne, Australia between March 25-27.

The news that the GP2 Asia support race event at Bahrain’ Sakhir International Circuit in March will not go ahead was a mere formality after the announcement that the F1 Grand Prix was being postponed. The third and final round of the GP2 Asia championship had been scheduled to run as a support race to the F1 Bahrain Grand Prix on March 11-13.

The confirmation that the final weekend of the 2011 GP2 Asia series will not now go ahead follows last week’s cancellation of round 2 of the series at the same venue due to force majeur at the last minute.

GP2 Series CEO Bruno Michel said in a press statement that “We are very sad to see Bahrain removed from this season’s calendar. It is always a great pleasure to go there where we have been cordially welcomed with professionalism since 2005. We are looking forward to going back there soon.”

As a result, GP2 Asia’s opening round at Abu Dhabi held earlier this month is set to be the only event of the series’ 2011 calendar, unless the organisers are able to arrange a replacement venue for one or more races at extremely late notice.

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