x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Formula One: Bahrain on track to open 2014 season

Abu Dhabi to host warm-weather pre-season testing before curtain-raiser.

Toro Rosso driver Daniel Ricciardo of Australia drives during the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Toro Rosso driver Daniel Ricciardo of Australia drives during the Bahrain Grand Prix.

MONTE CARLO // The Bahrain Grand Prix looks set to replace Australia as the season-opening race of the 2014 Formula One World Championship with Abu Dhabi hosting a warm-weather pre-season test two weeks beforehand at Yas Marina Circuit.

Next year is the 10th anniversary of the Gulf kingdom's annual grand prix and race organisers are keen to mark the occasion.

Bahrain hosted the season-opener in 2006 and 2010, but lost the prestigious position to Melbourne in 2011 when civil unrest forced the race to be postponed and eventually cancelled.

A return to the top of the calendar would not only bring added interest to the race at Sakhir, but could also be seen as a symbolic end to the controversy that has embroiled the race for the past two seasons.

On the sidelines of the Monaco Grand Prix on Sunday, the Crown Prince of Bahrain, Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, told The National the final decision sits with Bernie Ecclestone, the chief executive of Formula One Management (FOM), but that he expects clarification within two months.

"There are pros and cons to hosting the first race," the Crown Prince said. "The level of interest isn't usually as high as when the racing get underway, but it's also an opportunity to open the season and kick everything off.

"It needs to be done in the right manner for it to be a successful first race. We are waiting to hear from FOM to see what Bernie decides."

Ecclestone is expected to provide the 11 racing marques with a provisional 2014 calendar in July, before the sport shuts down for mid-season break.

Abu Dhabi has successfully hosted Young Driver Tests close to the end of year for the past three seasons, but a pre-season test would be a UAE first. There is a widespread acceptance that this year's winter tests in Spain were inconclusive in understanding Pirelli's 2013 tyre compounds due to Europe's cold weather.

Sources at Yas Marina said they were now awaiting final clarification from the teams, which organise testing among themselves. The circuit expects no issues courtesy of its strong relationship with the marques and the F1 facilities having been used for testing before.

The fact teams will likely be travelling on to Bahrain for the first race of the season two weeks later means a warm weather test in Abu Dhabi would make logistical sense, they added.

Paul Hembery, motorsports director at Pirelli, said he was in favour of testing in the Middle East.

"A good step forward would be winter testing actually in hot conditions," he said. "If we were able to get to Abu Dhabi or Bahrain before we get to Australia, at least you'd have an advanced indication [of how the tyres will react]."

However, Pirelli are yet to confirm their involvement in next season's championship, with the tyre manufacturer's three-year deal expiring at the end of the current season.

The Italian company has been heavily criticised in recent weeks because of its deliberately vulnerable tyre compounds, while it also now finds itself caught up in a secret testing row after it was revealed Mercedes-GP completed a three-day, 1,000km tyre test earlier this month seemingly without the knowledge of the sport's governing body or rival teams.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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