Formula 1 will not begin the 2011 season in Bahrain as planned, due to anti-government protests and unrest in the Gulf country. After a week of discussions and speculations, the inaugural race of the year has been cancelled, at the Bahraini Crown Prince's request.

"We must focus on immediate issues of national interest and leave the hosting to a later date," said the king's son, Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa in a phone conversation with Bernie Ecclestone, the F1 supremo. Instead of the March 13 debut, F1 will start two weeks later, in Australia.

Held each year since 2004, the Bahrain GP could be rescheduled, but it is too early for such talks right now. "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 was quoted as saying by the BBC.

The testing session due to take place on March 3 in Bahrain has been cancelled as well, with the teams going to Barcelona instead for the final pre-season tests.

The loss of the Bahrain GP means the 2011 season will have 19 venues, just like last year. For the organizers, the cancellation is very expensive, since they had to pay $40 million for a place in the 2011 calendar, plus another $20 million for the privilege of hosting the first race of the season. That is before we mention the 2010 modernization of the track that cost $50 million and the direct and indirect revenue generated by the race, estimated at around $600 million in 2008.

By Dan Mihalascu

Sources: BBC , CNN & Autosport



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