By Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent
Bahraini authorities and the Bahrain International Circuit have given up on the 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix. The venue was originally scheduled for March 13 but was postponed after bloody civil unrest struck the tiny Gulf Kingdom. Protesters were killed, the state of emergency was declared and Bahrain asked for the aid of Saudi troops to get a grip on the protests.
The FIA (Federation Internationale de L’Automobile) and Formula One Management (FOM) felt the safety of the Grand Prix could not be guaranteed and gave the promoters of the venue time until May 31 to solve the problems. At the request of FOM CEO Bernie Ecclestone the deadline was once again extended until June 1. FIA Vice President Carlos Gracia was sent to Bahrain to assess the situation, and in a report to the WMSC he concluded ‘there is no indication of any problems or reason why the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix should not return to the 2011 calendar’.
After a meeting of the FIA World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) in Barcelona last week it was decided it was safe to race again and Ecclestone then put the race on the calendar for October 30, while the Indian Grand Prix would take place in December.
The decision to race in Bahrain was not welcomed by some of the parties involved, Formula One teams did not agree the calendar was extended to December without their consent, and this week the Formula One Teams’ Association (FOTA) wrote a letter to the FIA to voice their concerns.
In the letter the FOTA stated they were mainly concerned about the logistics of such an extended calendar, “Whilst we support the idea of racing in Bahrain, a country that has always hosted us with enthusiasm and warmth, once the security conditions have been fully re-established, we feel that there are fundamental issues linked to the logistics of reintroducing such a race as proposed that have to be considered. As we have been planning around the 30th October as the date for the Indian Grand Prix, a change of this date would severely undermine our scheduled transport plans.”
Drivers, team principals and Formula One pundits like ex-FIA President Max Mosley, Damon Hill, Rubens Barrichello and Mark Webber openly questioned the WMSC’s decision. They not only questioned the safety of the drivers and team personnel, but were also concerned about the moral issues.
Although both Ecclestone and FIA President Jean Todt were always in favor of reinstating the Bahrain Grand Prix, the WMSC decision met a lot of critique from human rights organizations, and at the start of this week both gentleman made a complete U-turn and were all of a sudden not in favor of the race anymore.
This provoked the anger of the organizers of the race, and today they decided enough is enough. Only yesterday Todt had asked Ecclestone to find a solution, but BIC boss Zayed R. Alzayani said in a statement this morning, “Whilst Bahrain would have been delighted to see the Grand Prix progress on October 30th ... it has been made clear that this fixture cannot progress and we fully respect that decision.”
The statement further read: “We want our role in Formula One to continue to be as positive and constructive as it has always been, therefore, in the best interest of the sport, we will not pursue the rescheduling of a race this season.”
Alzayani also made it clear they have not given up on Formula One. “Bahrain has always sought to play a positive role in the continued development of Formula One, We look forward to welcoming teams, their drivers and supporters back to Bahrain next year and would like to extend our deepest gratitude to our supporters, including staff, volunteers, sponsors, private businesses and the general public, for whom I know this year's decision will be a disappointment,” he said.
The FIA seems to be confused about the statement of the BIC and has now asked Ecclestone to confirm the cancellation. “In the light of the statement by the Bahrain International Circuit, we are now waiting for the commercial rights holder to suggest a new calendar to the World Motor Sport Council,” a FIA spokesman said.
Ecclestone is currently in Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix, and Todt is in Le Mans for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Both have so far not given any comments.