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F1 season start hangs in the balance as Bahrain sits on the brink

Trouble brewing in the Gulf region calls into question whether March's Grand Prix in Bahrain will go ahead

Posted Feb 20, 2011 by Weekend Round-Up

Bernie Ecclestone

The first race of the season was due to be three weeks today but the increasingly violent protests in Bahrain and the general climate of unrest in the Gulf region has meant that the 13th march Grand Prix is hanging in the balance.

The GP2 series event that was due to be held in Bahrain has already been cancelled making the cancellation of the Grand Prix event even more likely. F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has told the media that he is watching the events in Bahrain very closely and will be making a decision in collaboration with the FIA once he has all the details.The 80 year old has said that he is trying to arrange a talk with the Crown Prince Salman ibn Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa but has conceded that his royal highness is understandably pre-occupied at the moment.

There has long been tension in Bahrain between the Sunni and Shia Muslims and back in 1990, trouble erupted with violent demonstrations as the Shia Muslims demanded more rights. To my knowledge however, the unrest has never been cause to cancel the race in Bahrain The FIA and Bernie Ecclestone in particular feel that the race in Bahrain may have to be cancelled in the best interests of teams and the fans alike given that protesters may look upon the event as a chance to gain awareness on the world stage – imagine if they disrupted the starting grid, there would be worldwide press coverage.

Teams have said that they will trust the judgment of Ecclestone as to whether the event should go ahead in a country where the Foreign Office is currently advising against “all but essential travel” to the Gulf state.

What happens if it is cancelled?

The 2011 season is supposed to have 20 races, one more than last year’s 18 races on five continents. This expansion of the timetable means that there are obviously going to be constraints and if Bahrain is cancelled, it is hard to see how the event is going to be rescheduled.

To be frank, it is likely only the local economy and reputation of Bahrain that will suffer. The powerhouse brand that is Formula 1 will of course survive this minor hiccup. It will of course be a terrible shame if the Grand Prix in Bahrain can’t go ahead as the season opener is always a great watch and the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, where Michael Schumacher currently holds the lap-time record, hasn’t disappointed me yet.

Meanwhile in Barcelona, reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel has been doing the business once again, topping the lap-time board two days on the bounce. Day one at the testing session in Spain saw Fernando Alonso chalk up a lap time of one minute, 25.485 which was the fastest for most of the day until the young German rained on Alonso’s parade on home turf. Day two and Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel was again the fastest man around Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya. Vettel finished two-tenths up on Toro Rosso’s Jaime Alguersuari.

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