Bahrain Grand Prix off after anti-government protests
Bahrain GP called off because of civil unrest
The Bahrain Grand Prix has been called off because of anti-government protests in the Gulf kingdom.
The race, due to be staged on 13 March, would have opened the new season but had been in doubt for more than a week because of the civil unrest.
Instead, the 2011 campaign will begin in Australia on 27 March.
"We must focus on immediate issues of national interest and leave the hosting to a later date," said Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa.
"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."
The race could still be rescheduled as the FIA, F1's world governing body, confirmed the postponement in a statement.
"The FIA is responsible for the international calendar as well as all matters of safety relating to the stakeholders involved in Grand Prix racing. We support the decision."
The Bahrain GP has been on the Formula 1 calendar every year since 2004.
"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," F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone.
"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."
Demonstrators in Bahrain are demanding that the ruling monarchy gives up its near-absolute control over key policies and positions.
"I made my decision yesterday which was pretty clear - read the papers. They know what's going on out there and they've made their call so let's go to Melbourne.
"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. Back to the good old days."
Williams F1 chairman, Adam Parr, also expressed his relief that a decision had been made.
"It is clear that to race in Bahrain at this time would be inappropriate given the current circumstances," Parr said in a statement by the British team.
"We now look forward to a season debut in Melbourne and returning to Bahrain when it is right to do so."
The fourth and final round of testing was due to take place in Bahrain on 3 March, but this has been cancelled and rescheduled for 8-11 March in Barcelona.
It will play into the hands of the teams that were struggling to make fast and reliable cars
BBC commentator Martin Brundle
BBC F1 commentator Martin Brundle told
Sarah Holt in Barcelona
the decision was inevitable, but remains the right call.
"The Crown Prince has a lot of things under consideration at the moment, a lot of decisions and discussions - not just around Formula 1," said Brundle.
"I don't think we were looking forward to going to Bahrain, shouting about a pole position lap or applauding a podium, when they've had so much turmoil there. The deaths and injuries have been a tragedy.
"It is absolutely the right decision for F1."
Brundle believes the delayed start to the new season could benefit some struggling teams.
"It will play into the hands of the teams that were struggling to make fast and reliable cars.
"There were 19 events last year and there will be 19 this year by the looks of it. It is not like we're short of Grands Prix this year.
"I hope it is back on the calendar if not later this year then certainly in its due place next year because it is a great venue."
Eddie Jordan echoed those sentiments and believes the safety of drivers and spectators is paramount.
"The Crown Prince has made an early call, a big call, and he has got it right. He is a pragmatic man and he is logical," Jordan told the BBC.
"F1 is a global sport, we pride ourselves that we have a genuine world championship that goes around the world.
"The Middle East is a crucial part of that so it is very important that we go there. But this civil unrest is far more important than any sporting event."
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