Bahrain Cancels 2011 Grand Prix

Bahrain Cancels 2011 Grand Prix
The organizers of the Bahrain Grand Prix announced on February 21st the cancellation of the race due to the continuing political unrest in that country. The race has been held there since 2004, with Formula 1 and the grand prix having given Bahrain a tremendous amount of international exposure, plus tourism the race brings with it. The decision to cancel has met with varying criticism for the parties involved.

Bahrain pays $40 million to host the race, with the money divided up among everyone in F1, so canceling affects more than just the schedule. Currently, F1 has no plans to charge Bahrain a fee for a race they won't host, but if and when the race is rescheduled, the fee will be reinstated.

The race itself has been run on a purpose-built track about 30 miles/50 km outside the capital city of Manama, but most of the teams, fans, and media attending the race stay in hotels in the city center, with many close to Pearl Square, which has been at the epicenter of the civil unrest. Safety was an obvious concern for the teams, with some saying they would not attend if the race was held. Williams went so far as to suggest they and other teams would boycott the event, for safety, but also to avoid escalating the situation, given the media coverage the race would bring.

Hosting a grand prix race has been a dream of Crown Prince Sheik Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa since he was a child, but the protesters view it as a vanity project that represents much of what is wrong in Bahrain. The Crown Prince holds the contract for the race so they have taken advantage of the international exposure given to their demonstrations to pressure the Crown Prince to cancel, saying that to continue with it would be an insult to the people who have died in the unrest. The protesters view the decision as a victory for their cause.

Bernie Ecclestone has been criticized for remaining quiet regarding the unrest in Bahrain. Formula 1 has strived to remain a-political, which is a wise decision given F1's reliance on government funding. More clearly, Ecclestone had no business taking a position on which is essentially a State matter. As for the race itself, only the Crown Prince should make the decision to cancel, to do what was best for his country.

The Bahrain GP is extremely popular among Bahrainis, and is the international event of the year for the Gulf island nation. There is talk of rescheduling later in the season, possibly August or just prior to the season finale in Brazil, with that race being moved to December. A decision should be made before the start of the season in Australia.

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