x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Ruling on F1 calendar and Bahrain Grand Prix soon

Decision 'has to be made' before start but F1 chief Ecclestone dismisses hosting race elsewhere as 'we need a race in Bahrain'

Bahrain has been a venue on the Formula One calendar for races every year since 2004. Luca Bruno / AP Photo
Bahrain has been a venue on the Formula One calendar for races every year since 2004. Luca Bruno / AP Photo

Bahrain will know within weeks whether the country's grand prix will return to the 2011 Formula One calendar after Bernie Ecclestone, the sport's commercial chief, said yesterday that he wants a decision to be made before the race season starts in Australia later this month.

The Kingdom was scheduled to host the season-opening race on March 13, but saw the event postponed by Bahrain's Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad following recent unrest. So long as the troubles subside, however, Ecclestone said he hopes the grand prix race can return to an already congested calendar later this year.

"The FIA (the sport's governing body) world council will meet at the beginning of March and could look into the situation," he said in an interview with Formula One's official website. "I have already spoken with FIA president Jean Todt about the possibility of finding a new date and we both agreed that a decision has to be made before the season starts."

The Australian Grand Prix at Melbourne's Albert Park will open the season on March 27.

Mohammed Ben Sulayem, a vice-president of the FIA World Council, told The National last week that a decision could not be considered until Bahrain formally requests to be reinstated on to the calendar. Officials from the Bahrain International Circuit have yet to confirm they have made such a request, but Ecclestone dismissed the idea of the race being held elsewhere.

"It's all very easy," he said. "We don't need an alternative race anywhere in Europe or any other place. We need a race in Bahrain.

"If the Crown Prince is of the opinion that his country is able to host a race we will return to Bahrain," added Ecclestone, who also refused to rule out the possibility of organising the race during a three-week break in August, despite the region's summer heat.

"I think the teams are sensible enough even to race in Bahrain in the summer break, and despite high temperatures, because this is the way we can support the country."

Ecclestone, who is intent on improving the sport as a spectacle, also said he would consider soaking the tracks as a means of making races more exhilarating. When Pirelli, F1's new tyre manufacturer, organised a testing session in Abu Dhabi earlier this year, the Italian suppliers drenched the entire Yas Marina Circuit with water.

"We always had the most exciting races in the wet, so let's think of making rain," he said. "There are race tracks that you can make artificially wet and it would be easy to have such systems at a number of tracks. Why not let it 'rain' in the middle of a race? For 20 minutes or the last 10 laps?

"Maybe with a two-minute warning ahead of it. Suspense would be guaranteed and it would be the same for all."

Ecclestone was also willing to offer some bold predictions. He claimed Michael Schumacher, the seven-time world champion, could return to the top of the podium if he is provided with a competitive car from his Mercedes GP race team.

The 80-year-old also said he believes Sebastian Vettel, the Red Bull-Renault driver who became the youngest world champion in the sport's history after winning the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November, will race for Italian manufacturers Ferrari in the future.

"One day I do see him with Ferrari. In the life of every successful Formula One driver comes the moment when he wants to sit in a Ferrari," Ecclestone said.