Bahrain's Formula One: On Again, Off Again
And it’s off - the Formula One Grand Prix that was recently reinstated on Oct. 30 has been postponed yet again. Last Thursday F1 Chief Bernie Eccelstone told the BBC that the race could not go ahead because of opposition from the teams and the situation in the country.
"Hopefully there'll be peace and quiet and we can return in the future, but of course it's not on. The schedule cannot be rescheduled without the agreement of the participants," Ecclestone said.
The news came as a great disappointment in Bahrain, where the reinstatement of the race the previous weekwas received with much excitement.
Many local businessmen felt the return of the event to the Kingdom represented a tangible sign that things are getting back to normal, as well as a signal of confidence from the international community that it too is buying into Bahrain’s post-crisis recovery.
To local merchants, the return of the F1 represented $500 million in both direct and indirect revenue generated from the race, some 2.5 percent of Bahrain’s GDP.
Mohammed Sajid, a Board Member of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry said, "(The cancellation of the F1) is a really big loss for the economy of Bahrain. There was hope from the business community that it could recover some losses it suffered over the past months, especially in the tourism sector."
However, regulators might have jumped the gun in making the announcement of a reinstatement without more careful consideration. F1 teams and drivers questioned the decision to come back to Bahrain later in the year, expressing concerns about safety and stability.
The teams also made it clear that logistics were an issue and that they didn’t want to extend the season into December. It is those feelings, as well as the potential for key sponsors to also back away from the event that have made the International Automobile Federation (FIA), the governing body of the race, reconsider its decision.
Remember, the race was originally scheduled in Bahrain as a March season-opener, but was postponed after civil unrest and a government crackdown on protesters earlier in the year.
Since the height of the unrest in February and March, the situation in Bahrain has stabilized. King Hamad even lifted the State of National Safety on June 1 - about two weeks sooner than expected - and while there are still pockets of unrest in some villages, things are running smoothly at the financial harbor and in most main parts of the city.
“The country will lose million of dinars from these cancelations. It's a shame that some are giving the wrong picture about security in Bahrain. Those who live here know that everything is back to normal,” Sajid said.
Political stability of course is key, but what about the future of Bahrain’s economy? If things don’t pick up at a faster pace, the situation could be grave. As one prominent businessman put it, “Only time will tell if Bahrain can regain the ground it has lost this year, but we’re all very hopeful that the people will unite and create a stronger Bahrain.”
Bahrain Grand Prix organisers have accepted the cancellation of their postponed Formula One race after teams objected to it being rescheduled in October.
The circuit chairman Zayed Alzayani said in a statement: "Whilst Bahrain would have been delighted to see the Grand Prix progress on October 30th ... it has been made clear that this fixture cannot progress and we fully respect that decision."
Alzayani said, "Bahrain has always sought to play a positive role in the continued development of Formula One. We look forward to welcoming teams, their drivers and supporters back to Bahrain next year."
Bahrain is on next year's schedule as the season-opener on March 11.