The season-opening race at Bahrain has been canceled – or postponed – the ultimate result depending on the outcome of civil unrest in that island nation. Protests against the ruling government have been proceeding for the past week as part of a wave of turmoil that is spreading throughout several Middle Eastern countries, including Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen and Libya.
Pressure had been mounting for Bernie Ecclestone and the FIA to call off the race, but F1 supremo Ecclestone dragged his feet in the matter, preferring to allow Bahrain’s Crown Prince to take responsibility for making a decision. And so he did.
In an official announcement released today, the Crown Prince said, “At the present time the country’s entire attention is focused on building a new national dialogue for Bahrain. 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.”
The wording of the statement is a bit perplexing. First of all, there’s the notion that Uncle Bernie “had graciously made clear that a decision on the race was entirely Bahrain’s to make.” Do you suppose the Crown Prince really needed Uncle Berni’s permission to call off the race? And the idea that the race might be squeezed into a later date this year, rather than being axed altogether, seems optimistic. Even if Bahrain can get its autocratic house in order, the FIA doesn’t take kindly to having its schedule messed with.
Eccelstone, for his part, couched his response the expected diplomatic verbiage. He told the BBC, “It’s sad that Bahrain has had to withdraw from the race. We wish the whole nation well as they begin to heal their country. 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.” Meanwhile, he’ll be counting how many euros he’ll be missing out on as a result of the axed race.
The Bahrain race had been scheduled for the weekend of March 11-13. The cancellation will push the season-opening race back to the Australian venue on March 25-27. The final pre-season testing previously scheduled to take place in Bahrain prior to the race has also been cancelled. Or perhaps moved is the better word, as testing will be held in Barcelona again, instead, on March 8-11.
Ironically, the announcement that the Melbourne venue would now lead off the season occurred on the same day that a Melbourne MP once again called for the city government to allow its F1 contract to lapse when it comes up for renewal in 2015. Speaking to the Australian House of Representatives, Labor MP Michael Danby said, “The grand prix may have been a good deal in 1996 when it cost the government only $1.7 million, but with falling crowd numbers and taxpayers footing a $50-million-a-year bill, the state government should know to cut its losses and walk away.”
As reported by the Australian Associated Press, Danby went on to say, “Raising costs, dwindling crowds, fed-up local residents, an ambivalent Melbourne mayor, no more F-18 flyovers…to me everything points to Melbourne saying, ‘Thanks for the memories,’ but gracefully declining to renew the grand prix contract, especially since it costs the taxpayers of Victoria $50 million.”