The Canadian Grand Prix - controversially struck off the 2009 calendar following a fee dispute between race organisers and Formula 1 commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone - could be set for a shock return this season in place of the Abu Dhabi finale.

The race around Montreal's iconic Circuit Gilles Villeneuve was removed from the schedule last October, with Ecclestone claiming outgoing race promoters Grand Prix du Canada still owed him money from previous editions - leaving the sport with no North American outing for the first time in more than half a century, to the evident dismay of its teams and particularly manufacturers, for whom the continent is a vital selling market.

However, both sides have since expressed interest in getting the popular event - a regular fixture on the ?le Notre Dame every year bar one since 1978, with an F1 race having been held in Canada on 40 occasions since 1967 - re-instated, and an opportunity may have arisen earlier than expected.

Reports were circulating in the Australian Grand Prix paddock in Melbourne at the weekend that the construction of the state-of-the-art $400 million Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi has fallen behind schedule as it suffers from the global credit crunch, with some doubts as to whether it will even be ready in time to take up its 1 November slot.

Whilst admitting that he is keen to see the race return, however, Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay insisted that the speculation was news to him, and was adamant that if the grand prix is awarded an unexpected reprieve in 2009, it would have to be with the guarantee of a long-term deal behind it and not just as a short-term fill-in.

"We haven't been informed of that possibility or even been asked by the Formula 1 people to hold that race," he is quoted as having said by The Canadian Press and Montreal Gazette. "We have been talking with Bernie Ecclestone about [F1] coming back in 2011 or 2010.

"If they want to come back in 2009 because there's a circuit that's not ready, yes, we're open to discussions - [but] one thing has to be clear. If for one reason or another the grand prix [comes calling], we're not going to do it if we only have the race for 2009. We want a long-term agreement that respects our ability to pay."

"We're always open to a discussion," added Qu?bec Premier Jean Charest, "but not under any conditions. It has to make financial sense, just like last time. We still have discussions with Formula 1 about them coming back to Montreal as soon as possible. We're looking at 2010, or at the latest 2011."

Montreal has replaced F1 this year with a NASCAR event scheduled for late August, with the Turkish Grand Prix in Istanbul having assumed the Canadian Grand Prix's traditional early June date.

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