Bahrain Grand Prix Nixed
Bahrain Cancels Grand Prix Amid Political Unrest
by Brad Spurgeon
The organizers of the Bahrain Grand Prix announced Monday that the Formula One race next month had been canceled because of the political unrest in the country.
The race, which was scheduled to run March 13 at the Sakhir circuit, outside the capital, Manama, was to have been the first of the 20-race season, which will now begin with the Australian Grand Prix on March 27.
Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, the son of the king, on Monday told the Formula One promoter Bernie Ecclestone by telephone that Bahrain was obliged to cancel the race date.
“At the present time, the country’s entire attention is focused on building a new national dialogue for Bahrain,” Prince Salman said in a statement released by the Bahrain International Circuit. “We felt it was important for the country to focus on immediate issues of national interest and leave the hosting of Bahrain’s Formula One race to a later date.”
Although there has been speculation in recent days that the race would be moved later in the year, the statement said no decision had been made.
“It is sad that Bahrain has had to withdraw from the race,” Ecclestone said. “We wish the whole nation well as they begin to heal their country.”
“We look forward to being back in Bahrain soon,” he added.
Bahrain has held the race since 2004 at a purpose-built circuit about 50 kilometers, or 30 miles, from the capital city. But the majority of the teams, media and foreign spectators stay in hotels in the center of the city, many of them near Pearl Square, which has been the central meeting point of the demonstrations.
At least eight people have been killed and hundreds injured in confrontations between the military and the police in Bahrain since last week.
Bahrain is one of two countries in the region that hold Formula One races. Abu Dhabi is scheduled to run the second-to-last race of the season, on Nov. 13.
Formula One had just expanded its calendar to 20 races this year with a new race in India, scheduled for Oct. 30.
Countries have flocked to hold Formula One races over the past decade to cash in on the tourism dollars of the spectators who come to watch the race, and for the worldwide television exposure, with millions of television viewers from around the world.
Last week, Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, said the race had been seen as an opportunity for the protesters to publicize their cause.
Adam Parr, the chairman of the Williams Formula One team, in reaction to the announcement: “It is obviously disappointing for everyone involved in the organization of the event, but it is clear that to race in Bahrain at this time would be inappropriate given the current circumstances.”
Mark Webber, a driver at the Red Bull team, said Sunday at a testing session in Montmelo, near Barcelona, that the teams and drivers were philosophical about the possibility that the race would be canceled.
“We know in terms of Formula One and priorities we’re not high on the list,” said Webber, an Australian. “They’ve got other things that clearly should come first.
“If we can still go there and hold a sporting event in a few weeks, then it would be great,” he added. “But if we can’t, then it’s not a big deal.”
The Formula One teams had also planned to hold a winter testing session in Bahrain next week. Instead, they will again test at the Montmelo circuit near Barcelona, where the Spanish Grand Prix will take place May 22.