28 February 2011
Bahrain still hopeful of race rescheduling
Hopes remain high in the Middle East that the Bahrain GP can be rescheduled for later in the 2011 F1 season.
Despite fears that the F1 calendar could be too full to restage the cancelled Bahrain Grand Prix in 2011, it is understood that the beleaguered royal family are hopeful that a deal can be struck to run the race.
The outbreak of civil unrest in the island kingdom brought the inevitable decision to call off the opening round of the season, scheduled for 11-13 March, and, with 19 other races set to run as normal, there are few clear opportunities to slot the Sakhir event back onto the calendar. Nevertheless, quoted Shaikh Mohammed bin Isa Al Khalifa, chairman of the country's economic development board, is keen to see the race run once the troubles are resolved.
"Losing the grand prix is nothing compared with a stable country and a strong economy, but Bahrain is still seeking the possibility of hosting the much-awaited race later this year," he told CNN, "We are hoping that [the protests] will subside and the race will continue at a later date."
F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has decided to waive the $40m fee payable for staging the race unless it runs later in the year, but some of the sport's insiders remain sceptical that there is space on what would have been the biggest grand prix calendar ever. The only potential gap that could be filled is the traditional summer break - which is likely to face strong opposition from teams that will be hoping to rest their workforce during the mandatory factory shut-down period - leaving Bahrain to be shoe-horned into one of the free weekends either side of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the end of the season.
The royal family, which makes all vital decisions for the country, has faced calls for it to relinquish its hold on government, with protests in the capital Manama having already seen GP2 Asia competitors having to pack up and leave as the tanks rolled in. Unlike other countries facing similar problems, however, the rulers have said that they are open to talks with the opposition.
"We have gone through difficult and the country is recovering," Al Khalifa continued, "During the crisis, we haven't blocked the internet or the satellite channels. We allowed everything to be reported in total transparency."
Title sponsor Gulf Air has already vowed to refund tickets for flights to Bahrain for travellers who had hoped to attend the cancelled race, and regional travel manager Sunil de Souza has confirmed that bookings will be carried forward for any rescheduled event.
"We are hoping that [the protests] will subside and the race will continue at a later date," he told Arabian Business magazine, "We will carry [bookings] forward to a later date."
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