On Monday the decision was taken to cancel this season’s opening Grand Prix in Bahrain due to civil unrest in the country. The final pre-season test, also due to take place at the circuit, has also been cancelled. Although it is a problem out of the organiser’s hands, it is a massive setback for the race organisers.
This is the latest in a line of problems to hit the Bahrain race. It has often been regarded by most as a dull, lifeless circuit set miles from anywhere with no soul. And last year’s race was voted the dullest race of the season, despite the organisers adding a new loop to the circuit to accommodate the extra cars in the field (this was later claimed to be a one-off to celebrate F1’s 60th anniversary, and had been removed for this year’s event). So the question now is where does this leave the Gulf State in terms of their future in F1?
Although they have a long-term contract with Bernie Ecclestone, the F1 supremo does not like this sort of thing. Back in 1997, Portugal had a long-term contract to host F1 races, but having not upgraded their safety facilities in time, it was removed from the calendar mid-season and replaced by Jerez, did not appear on the following season’s calendar, and has yet to re-appear. In 2003 Austria hosted its final race after Bernie Ecclestone needed more room on the calendar for more races. The same happened to USA in 2007 (although this will return in 2012), and also to France in 2008. With USA, Russia and Bulgaria joining the F1 circus in the next few years, and the likes of South Africa and Mexico waiting to join them, F1 does not need Bahrain on the calendar. However, Bahrain needs F1 due to the huge boost to the local economy and its international exposure. It will be interesting to see how this story develops, and what sort of future, if any, Bahrain has in F1.