DUBAI // Bernie Ecclestone has confirmed a 20th grand prix will not be added to the Formula One calendar this year, but said he is certain the schedule will return to its full capacity in 2014 after being left "very impressed" by progress in Sochi ahead of next year's inaugural Russian Grand Prix.
Following last year's announcement that the Grand Prix of America would be not be taking place as planned in 2013, rumours had mounted a European city would join the calendar to fill the vacant weekend. Ecclestone, the commercial rights owner of F1, however said it was now impossible to implement such an addition "at this late stage".
"The calendar has been formed already, it's too late," he told The National in Dubai, where he was announcing a US$180m (Dh660.6m) five-year global sponsorship deal with Emirates Airline. The 82 year old added he was "disappointed that it didn't happen before; we can't suddenly slot it in".
The result is, following the withdrawal of Valencia's European Grand Prix, this season will feature one less race than 2012, but Ecclestone said "for sure" next year there will be 20 races and spoke highly of his recent trip to Russia, where he met President Vladimir Putin.
"Everything seems very good," Ecclestone said. "He seems delighted with the Olympics and the Formula One. It was good. I was very impressed with what they have done."
Almost inevitably, the man who has spent much of the past four decades expanding F1's global footprint was quizzed on a host of potential future host cities, including Jerusalem, Doha and Dubai.
Ecclestone confirmed discussions have been held with Qatari officials, but added courtesy of the congested calendar and the fact the Middle East already hosts two grands prix - in Abu Dhabi and Bahrain - any further additions from this region would be complicated.
"We support races that we think are good for Formula One, wherever they may be," he said. "We have a restriction for 20 races and we already have two in this area, so it would be difficult to pop another one in."
The Bahrain Grand Prix was cancelled in 2011 after social unrest, but returned to the calendar last year and while Ecclestone said he is "100 per cent" certain the race will go ahead again this season, he added he hopes "things are a little bit more peaceful".
"We are scheduled to have a race there, so we will be there, same as last year. I haven't seen the kind of troubles that we experienced this time last year," he said.
This season has also seen Hispania Racing Team withdraw from the championship with a group of North American investors being linked with a proposal to replace the Spanish marque on the grid. Ecclestone accepted that it had been a possibility, but again things were pushed back.
"Yes, it's just too late," he said. "I just explained to them that they need to get their act together and reapply next year. They were just too late this year."
While preseason testing got under way yesterday in southern Spain in Jerez, the 2013 season starts in Australia on March 17.
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