x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Bahrain Grand Prix race gets the green light

The postponed event gets the slot of the inaugural Indian Grand Prix while the new race is pushed to the end of the season.

The decision to reinstate the Bahrain Grand Prix into this year’s Formula One calendar “reflects the spirit of reconciliation” in the country, the FIA said yesterday.

The race, originally scheduled to open the season on March 13 before its postponement because of civil unrest, will be held on October 30. That was the date planned for India’s inaugural F1 race, which will now become the season-ending event, taking place sometime after November 27. A date has not been confirmed.

During yesterday’s World Motor Sports Council (WMSC) meeting in Barcelona, the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile unanimously decided Bahrain’s race should take place on the last Sunday in October, two weeks before the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

After the announcement, the Formula One Teams Association said it will hold discussions before making a statement. Red Bull, the reigning constructors champions, released a brief statement confirming they plan to “go through the correct channels and discuss this decision within the appropriate forum with the other F1 teams and our fellow FOTA members”.

Red Bull’s Mark Webber is the only driver to publicly state Formula One should not go to Bahrain this year. He posted on his Twitter account earlier in the week: “When people in a country are being hurt, the issues are bigger than sport.”

But the FIA gave its approval after examining the situation in Bahrain this week. “This decision reflects the spirit of reconciliation in Bahrain, which is evident from the strong support the race receives from the government and all major parties in Bahrain, including the largest opposition group, all of whom endorse the Formula One Grand Prix and motor sport in the country,” an FIA statement read.

Earlier in the week, Wefaq, the government’s main opposition group, said it supported efforts to bring Formula One back to Bahrain as it would “force all the stakeholders to come together to find solutions ahead of the event”.

An FIA statement said a fact-finding mission was undertaken on Tuesday at the request of Jean Todt, the governing body’s president.

“FIA vice-president Carlos Gracia visited Bahrain on 31 May 2011 to assess the situation in the country,” the statement read.

“Meetings were conducted with the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the Bahrain Motor Federation and Bahrain International Circuit, as well as other national and international organisations, including Mr Tariq al Saffar at the National Institute of Human Rights.”

The statement continued: “After considering all the factors and taking into consideration all stakeholders’ concerns, the WMSC unanimously agreed to reinstate the Bahrain Grand Prix in the 2011 FIA Formula One World Championship. [We] feel that reinstating the Grand Prix is a means of helping to unite people as the country looks to move forward.”

Zayed Rashid al Zayani, the chairman of the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, said the decision was “welcome news for all of Bahrain”.

“As a country we have faced a difficult time, but stability has returned, with businesses operating close to normal and countries removing travel restrictions,” he said.

“By the time the grand prix arrives we will be able to remind the world about Bahrain at its best. The Bahrain Grand Prix has always been a source of national pride and it is an event than transcends politics.”

While the FIA was able to confirm only that the rescheduled Indian Grand Prix will be the “final round of the 2011 championship”, the sport’s body did provisionally announce the 2012 calendar.

Bahrain is pencilled in to open a 21-race season on March 11, with Brazil ending the championship on November 25, 2012.

Turkey remains on the calendar, despite their unwillingness to meet financial demands, and the United States Grand Prix will take place on June 16 in Texas. The fourth Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will provisionally take place on November 11 next year.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae