Organisers of the postponed F1 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix have been given an extended deadline by the FIA to determine whether or not the ongoing political situation in the desert kingdom will allow for the race to be rescheduled later this year.
Following the cancellation of the planned season curtain-raiser on 13 March in the wake of the outbreak of widespread civil unrest in the tiny Gulf state, the Bahrain Motor Federation and the Bahrain International Circuit at Sakhir were given a deadline of 1 May to inform the sport's governing body of whether they would be in a position to restage the grand prix towards the end of the campaign – most likely on 20 November, in-between Abu Dhabi and Brazil, in which case the latter would need to be pushed back by a week.
After F1 commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone – who has vowed to waive Bahrain's $40 million race-hosting fee should the event not be able to take place – suggested that 'we need to wait a little bit to see exactly how progress is made' and mooted a new deadline of 'early June or something like that' [see separate story – click here
], the FIA has duly announced that the country's government now has an extra month to iron out its issues and secure peace...and in so doing secure its spot on the 2011 calendar.
'The Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile has granted the Bahrain Motor Federation and the Bahrain International Circuit an extension until 3 June, date of the FIA World Motor Sport Council in Barcelona,' read an official statement. 'This decision was taken after consultation with the relevant Bahraini authorities and Formula One Management, the international promoter.'
Since the anti-government violence erupted in Bahrain on 14 February, at least 29 people have died, whilst last week, sectarian tensions were heightened when – following a trial conducted behind closed doors – a military court sentenced four demonstrators to death over the killing of two military policemen during the pro-democracy riots, with three more sentenced to life imprisonment.
A three-month state-of-emergency still prevails, but Bahraini authorities insist the security situation is improving, and prior to the FIA statement, Bahrain International Circuit chairman, Zayed Rashid Alzayani had issued one of his own.
“We gratefully acknowledge the understanding of Formula One Management and the FIA in what have been difficult times,” he had said. “We also thank the continued support of the international motorsport community and F1 fans around the world.
“Clearly, our national priority is to find a resolution to the difficulties that the kingdom has experienced, [and] the national situation has moved on in a positive manner. The situation is evolving all the time. Our day-to-day life is gradually improving under the current state of national safety.
“Bahrain's Grand Prix is a time of celebration, and hosting the race is a source of great pride for Bahrain and Bahrainis. It is a showcase to the world, and we look forward to welcoming the teams and drivers and everyone involved in F1 back to Bahrain in the very near future.”
A circuit spokesman enigmatically revealed that 'we are not saying we are hosting it, we are not saying we are not hosting it, we are not saying it is cancelled'.
“Bahrain's commitment to F1 has been clear from the very outset,” added Ecclestone. “While obviously the kingdom has had to put its national affairs first, I have never been in any doubt that restoring the Bahrain Grand Prix has been of paramount importance. In eight years of my relationship with Bahrain, I have always been confident that they will produce something special.”
Meanwhile, following the revelation that activists had called upon Ecclestone not to give the race a new slot until 'basic human rights and freedoms are restored and the repression is over' [see separate story – click here
], it emerges that an online petition in favour of the Bahrain Grand Prix being restaged has been launched on Twitter
, thus far boasting more than 800 signatures. The 'Bring Back Bahrain Formula 1 GP' appeal espouses the benefits the sport has brought to the kingdom in terms of greater international profile and economic growth.
Both FIA President Jean Todt and Bahrain Grand Prix representatives are expected to attend this weekend's Turkish Grand Prix in Istanbul.