The season-opening race of the new Formula One campaign in Bahrain has today been officially called off.
The Bahrain International Circuit has confirmed the Gulf kingdom has decided to withdraw from hosting the event that was due to take place from March 11-13 in order to focus on “overcoming tragedy” and “healing divisions” in the wake of recent civil unrest.
The BIC further stated no decision has been made on a new date for the potential rescheduling of the race.
The crown prince of Bahrain, Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa informed Ecclestone of his decision by telephone earlier today.
Prince Salman said: “At the present time the country’s entire attention is focused on building a new national dialogue for Bahrain.
“Although Bernie Ecclestone had graciously made clear a decision on the race was entirely Bahrain’s to make and was not yet required, we felt it was important for the country to focus on immediate issues of national interest and leave the hosting of Bahrain’s Formula One race to a later date.
“I would like to extend my personal gratitude to Bernie Ecclestone for his support and understanding.
“After the events of the past week, our nation’s priority is on overcoming tragedy, healing divisions and rediscovering the fabric that draws this country together, reminding the world of the very best that Bahrain is capable of as a nation once again united.”
Ecclestone had been in dialogue with the crown prince over the past few days following the anti-government demonstrations that led to six dead last week.
Over the weekend the 80-year-old confirmed the decision was in the hands of Bahrain’s rulers.
Speaking today in the wake of Bahrain’s decision, Ecclestone said: “It is sad that Bahrain has had to withdraw from the race. We wish the whole nation well as they begin to heal their country.
“The hospitality and warmth of the people of Bahrain is a hallmark of the race there, as anyone who has been at a Bahrain Grand Prix will testify. We look forward to being back in Bahrain soon.”
Zayed R Alzayani, the chairman of the BIC, added: “Bahrain’s Grand Prix is a time of celebration, and hosting the race is a source of great pride for Bahrain and Bahrainis.
“It is a showcase to the world and we look forward to welcoming the teams and drivers, and everyone involved in Formula One, back to Bahrain in the very near future.
“I hope that F1 and our friends around the world will understand our decision at this difficult time.”
It now means the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 27 will play host to the first round of the 2011 season.
Naturally, in light of today’s decision, the final test that had been scheduled for Bahrain from March 3-6 is also cancelled.
With the Formula One Teams’ Association discussing the matter at present, the likelihood is they will vote to remain in Barcelona where the penultimate test has today concluded at the Circuit de Catalunya.
Mark Webber, who had been the only driver to voice his opposition to racing in Bahrain, was appreciably supportive of the decision made.
“They know what is going on out there and they have made their call, so let’s go to Melbourne. Back to the good old days,” said the Red Bull star.
“It would have been nice to go to Bahrain, but we have to wait a bit longer to have our first race and that just happens to be my home race. I always look forward to going down there. It’s a sensational event.”
It has since been confirmed the final test will take place in Barcelona from March 8-11.