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by Tim Beissmann

The Australian Formula One Grand Prix will become the first round of the 2011 Championship after the Bahrain race, scheduled for March 13, was cancelled due to continued anti-government protests.

Seven people have died and hundreds more have been injured as a result of a government fight-back against pro-democracy activists in the capital, Manama.

Bahrain’s Crown Prince, Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, phoned Formula One CEO, Bernie Ecclestone, overnight to inform him of his decision.

“We felt it was important for the country to focus on immediate issues of national interest and leave the hosting of Bahrain’s Formula One race to a later date,” the Crown Price said in a statement.

There has been no confirmation whether the Bahrain race will be postponed to later in the year, or cancelled entirely for 2011. The Bahrain test session scheduled for the beginning of March has now been moved to Barcelona.

Mr Ecclestone said the decision to abandon the Bahrain round was a regrettable one but agreed it was the only option.

“It is sad that Bahrain has had to withdraw from the race,” Mr Ecclestone said in a statement.

“We wish the whole nation well as they begin to heal their country. We look forward to being back in Bahrain soon.”

Australian driver Mark Webber welcomed the Bahraini Prince’s decision.

“The right decision was made, in light of what is going on, so we look forward to Melbourne instead,” Webber said in a Red Bull Racing team statement.

“It’s my home race and I’m looking forward to it. We’re in good shape as a team.”

Australia last hosted the opening race of the Formula One season in 2009, before Bahrain took over for the first time in 2010.

The date of the Australia Formula One Grand Prix is unchanged, with the event running from March 24-27 at Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit.




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