Abu Dhabi willing to accommodate Bahrain Grand Prix

Ben Sulayem, UAE's representative to the world body, says they would not object to the Bahrain race being rescheduled at the end of the season near Abu Dhabi's slot.

The Bahrain Grand Prix in Manama got the red light after the nod from the Crown Prince.
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Bahrain and Abu Dhabi were originally granted dates at opposite ends of the Formula One calendar to get maximum exposure for the Gulf region, but the UAE would not object to the postponed Bahrain race being rescheduled at the end of the season.

That was the word yesterday from Mohammed ben Sulayem, a vice-president on the World Motor Sports Council (WMSC) and the president of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE.

"We are organisers of the Abu Dhabi race and we respect the [FIA's] judgement," ben Sulayem said. "Finding time in the calendar is feasible.

"Originally, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain agreed to have a big separation on the calendar to make the most of the exposure that a grand prix brings. However, this is an emergency and in an emergency we need to work together."

Bahrain's decision to call off the season-opening race on March 13 because of unrest in the country has been met with widespread relief and international approval.

But the question of when – or if – the race should be rescheduled was a hot topic for F1 teams and officials yesterday.

Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula One chief, appeared reluctant to confirm whether, if the unrest in Bahrain subsides, the race would be held later this year.

Ecclestone told the BBC he is "looking to see how we can slot it in".

But he also added, when asked if it will definitely take place this year: "We don't know yet; we will need to wait and see."

With 20 grands prix on the calendar, 2011 was going to be the busiest year in the sport's history. Bahrain's withdrawal does not massively change that, but it does mean the season, as it stands today, will be two weeks shorter.

The Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 27 will now open the season, with the Brazilian Grand Prix in Sao Paulo on November 27 marking the end.

Ben Sulayem told The National yesterday that he discussed the situation with Ecclestone by telephone twice in the past seven days and that postponing the Bahrain race was a "wise decision".

"I spoke with Bernie and he was very straight. It wasn't for us to decide. It was up to the Crown Prince of Bahrain because there are more important things going on there than motorsports," ben Sulayem said.

"What is crucial is Bahrain get their priorities right and I believe they have done so. Stability is the most important factor at this stage, but once it returns then we will push to bring the race back, because we know they would do the same for us."

A decision regarding the race – which has been held at Sakhir, south of Manama, since 2004 – cannot be made until organisers at the Bahrain International Circuit officially make a request to be re-included, ben Sulayem said.

The WMSC meets next week and will discuss the situation, but until Bahrain circuit officials formally request Ecclestone's Formula One Management (FOM) group to find them a place on the calendar, nothing will be decided.

"If a request comes from Bahrain, the FOM has to find a place on the calendar and Bahrain have to agree to it," he said. "Then the World Council will need to approve it."

If no request for a new race date is made by next week, the WMSC's subsequent meeting in June would be the next opportunity for Bahrain to have its request heard.

Everyone agrees that the current calendar is congested and the possibility of squeezing in one more race in is far from ideal. But if Bahrain is adamant about securing a race later this season - and the country has been unfaltering in its support of F1, including paying tens of millions of dollars to host the season-opening race - there are two realistic gaps that could be exploited by Ecclestone.

There are free weekends either side of the penultimate race of the season in Abu Dhabi on November 13 and, logistically at least, it would make sense for Bahrain to be paired as close to the UAE race as possible. Ben Sulayem said yesterday that this year could be an exception to the strategy of having the two races separated by as much time as possible.