The FIA and its World Motor Sport Council have released the first official draft of the 2004 Formula One World Championship calendar - and it features no fewer than 18 races.

The reason for the higher than usual number of dates - 2003 saw just 16, while 17 had been the norm in recent years prior to that - is the return of Spa-Francorchamps and the Belgian Grand Prix, and the late re-instatement of Montreal and the Canadian GP.

While Belgium was always likely to return after its government undertook a u-turn with regard to the use of tobacco sponsorship at Spa, the inclusion of Canada is something of a surprise, despite the ongoing battle to save one of Montreal's biggest annual events. Again tobacco legislation - and laws proposed seven years ago - looked likely to have finished off the event, but both Bernie Ecclestone and members of the local and national governments are working on ways to prolong the race's position on the schedule, most probably through financial compensation payments to team's carrying - or rather, not carrying, - tobacco sponsorship at the event in 2004.

The calendar could also revert to 17, or fewer, events should any of the French, Bahrain or Chinese races fall foul of the FIA, with the organisers of the annual trip to Magny-Cours still to sign a new contract with Ecclestone and the FOM. Bahrain and China, as new venues, both need to receive official circuit approval before being formally included.

Canada's return to the provisional line-up also means that a reshuffle of dates has taken place, with the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve slotting in to the double-header with Indianapolis as originally suggested before doubts arose over the Montreal event.

While the beginning and end of the schedule remains as initially unveiled, San Marino returns to an April date, having originally been scheduled for June, while the Nurburgring is dragged away from a possibly snowy fate following a move to the end of May. Canada then follows two weeks later, seven days before the first June date at Indy.

The rest of the dates remain as planned, with the traditional three-week summer break slotted in between Germany on 25 July and Hungary on 15 August. Britain and France, if it takes place, go back-to-back to cater for this. There is also a three week break to split the opening three flyaway rounds and the return to Europe at Imola.

The full schedule, as at 15 October, is as follows:

March 7 Grand Prix of Australia Melbourne
March 21 Grand Prix of Malaysia Sepang
April 4 Grand Prix of Bahrain Bahrain**
April 25 Grand Prix of San Marino Imola
May 9 Grand Prix of Spain Barcelona
May 23 Grand Prix of Monaco Monaco
May 30 Grand Prix of Europe N?rburgring
June 13 Grand Prix of Canada Montreal***
June 20 Grand Prix of USA Indianapolis
July 4 Grand Prix of Great Britain Silverstone
July 11 Grand Prix de France Magny-Cours*
July 25 Grand Prix of Germany Hockenheim
August 15 Grand Prix of Hungary Budapest
August 29 Grand Prix of Belgium Spa-Francorchamps
September 12 Grand Prix of Italy Monza
September 26 Grand Prix of China Shanghai**
October 10 Grand Prix of Japan Suzuka
October 24 Grand Prix of Brazil Sao Paolo

[* denotes race subject to conclusion of a contract; ** denotes subject to circuit approval; *** denotes subject to a satisfactory financial agreement with competing teams regarding the absence of tobacco sponsorship]



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