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Motor Racing

Unrest forces Bahrain to postpone Grand Prix

Crown Prince calls off the race to focus on uniting country, meaning season will now start in Australia

The Bahrain Grand Prix, which was to have opened the Formula One World Championship on 13 March, has been cancelled due to the political problems in the country. The Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) confirmed the news yesterday as talks continue following the recent unrest which saw five people killed by Bahraini security forces.

F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone was informed of the decision by phone by the Crown Prince, HRH Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, who last Friday was asked by his father, King Hamad, to initiate a new national dialogue involving all sections of Bahraini society in order to resolve the current political situation. Last week, the British Foreign Office advised only those whose travel was "essential" to visit the troubled kingdom.

"At present, the country's entire attention is focused on building a new national dialogue for Bahrain," Prince Salman said. "Although Bernie Ecclestone had graciously made clear that 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 F1 race to a later date.

"I would like to extend my gratitude to Bernie Ecclestone for his 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 united."

Zayed R Alzayani, the chairman of BIC, said: "Bahrain's Grand Prix is a time of celebration and hosting the race is a source of great pride for 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."

A quick decision on the future of the race was essential as teams were due to test there next week. A decision will be taken tonight by the F1 teams' association on an alternative venue for the final session permitted before the season starts. It is likely they will go back to Barcelona, where the third session finished today, or Jerez where the second took place earlier this month.

Yesterday, 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."

Williams reflected the teams' thoughts in a statement which said: "It is clear that to race in Bahrain at this time would be inappropriate given the current circumstances. It is always Williams' intention to contribute positively to the countries we compete in and so we fully support the Crown Prince's decision to cancel the test and forthcoming Bahrain Grand Prix. We now look forward to returning to Bahrain when it is right to do so."

No decision has been made on a new date for the race. The calendar is already packed with 19 other grands prix, leaving only the August holiday month, or 6 November when the race could be back-to-backed with Abu Dhabi a week later, as likely alternatives.

Meanwhile, the season will now kick off in Melbourne on 27 March.