The Formula One Grand Prix circuit in Manama. Preparations for holding Formula One’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix are progressing despite fears that political violence may make it impossible to organise the banner event. Image Credit: Reuters

Manama: Gulf News sources in Bahrain can confirm that the Bahrain Grand Prix, scheduled for the weekend of March 11-13, will be rescheduled to the end of the season.

It will take place after the Kuala Lumpur GP and before the second-last race of the season in Abu Dhabi.

"We have been told to step down our operations," an official with a German race team said last night.

The decision to postpone the Bahrain race will be confirmed later on Monday, if not before Wednesday's deadline imposed by Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone.

Ecclestone, the Formula One rights holder, has little choice other than to sacrifice the start of the 2011 world championship, after the UK Foreign Office on Sunday advised against all non-essential travel to the Gulf state.

Common sense

Even before that directive, the F1 community had agreed privately that it would be both irresponsible and indefensible to arrive in Bahrain at a time of unrest.

Ferrari legend Niki Lauda has argued for common sense to prevail regarding the Grand Prix, scheduled for March 13. "The race should be cancelled," he said.

Mercedes president Norbert Haug added: "The safety of our employees is more important than anything else."

Ecclestone would prefer it if Bahrain's authorities asked for the race to be called off rather than leave the decision to him and the sport's governing body FIA.

Bahrain raised the $40 million to host the first round of the world championship by $20m to retain the honour of launching the F1 season, after outbidding the promoters of the Australian Grand Prix last year.

And Ecclestone remains contractually obliged to deliver a full grid of cars to be assured his payment.

Last week's political upheaval in Bahrain, however, has effectively rendered any existing contract with him a worthless document.

German world champion Sebastian Vettel, who set the quickest time for the second day running on Sunday when testing his latest-generation Red Bull car here, said: "It's pretty simple; if it's dangerous there, we will not drive, if it's not dangerous, we will."

Start Down Under

His father Norbert has already cancelled his flight to Bahrain on Friday. If the Bahrain Grand Prix is called off, the Australian Grand Prix, to be held in Melbourne on March 27, would become the curtain-raiser to the championship.

Bernie's update: Salman to decide on race

Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone says he will rely on Bahrain's Crown Prince to decide whether the island is safe enough to host the season-opening grand prix next month.

Ecclestone told the BBC on Sunday that Crown Prince Shaikh Salman Bin Hamad Al Khalifa "would decide whether or not it's safe for us to be there."

Ecclestone said "if anyone's going to sort it out he's the right guy to do it."

He ruled out moving the season-opener to another venue at this late stage, but said that if the March 13 race is postponed it could possibly be staged later in the season.

With inputs from AP

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