Bahrain to host F1 season opener (2nd Update) UPDATE #2 This rumor is downgraded to 'false' today. Australia may retain the opening slot on the 2014 calendar.
Earlier, it was thought likely the sport's highly-controversial Bahrain race could steal Melbourne's thunder as the scene of next year's championship opener.
But Australian Grand Prix Corporation chairman Ron Walker was in London last week for talks with Bernie Ecclestone.
"We will be the first race (in 2014)," Walker told the Australian Financial Review afterwards.
"Everything is going to plan for that."
The situation was expected to be cleared up late last week, when the World Motor Sport Council met at Goodwood.
But, unusually, a provisional calendar was not published.
F1 chief executive Ecclestone, however, has backed his friend and ally Walker's claim that Australia will still host the opening race next March.
"No, we aren't making Bahrain the first race next year," the 82-year-old told F1 business journalist and Formula Money editor Christian Sylt last week.
"I think we will keep it as it is. It is just a rumor that it will change."
06/18/13 This rumor is upgraded to 'strong' today. Melbourne has all but confirmed news it has lost its status as the opening race on the formula one calendar.
|Melbourne, for so long the season opener, now takes a backseat to Bahrain?|
It emerged recently that F1's hugely controversial Bahrain grand prix is provisionally scheduled to kick off an unprecedentedly-long 21-race schedule in 2014.
Bahrain's race will be in early March, which is a couple of weeks earlier than Australia usually hosts the season opener, in the third week of the month.
The Sunday Herald Sun newspaper reports that Bahrain next year will be held on March 2, followed by Melbourne two weeks later.
But Andrew Westacott, boss of the Australian grand prix corporation, said Melbourne is happy with the mid-March slot, due to the scheduling of other sports events in the city at that time.
"Our preference is to retain the third weekend in March," he said, playing down fears crowd numbers might be affected by the race's altered status.
"The grand prix ran on the first weekend in April (in 2006) and estimated attendance remained strong with crowds in excess of 300,000," Westacott insisted.
The 2014 calendar is expected to be confirmed by the FIA in August.
On the face of it, an unprecedented 21 grands prix should be listed, due to the new races in Russia and New Jersey.
But Speed Week claims teams may actually only end up travelling to a more comfortable 19 destinations, with the events in India and South Korea reportedly in doubt.
The report said Korea's current contract runs through 2016, but that the unpopular and poorly attended F1 host is losing the support of the local authorities.
As for India, Speed Week said: "We are hearing that the 2013 race is financially backed, but not the 2014 one.
"Indian sources suggest the (promoter) Jaypee Group is nearing bankruptcy."
06/11/13 F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone met Bahrain Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa before the Canadian Grand Prix last weekend to "discuss the feasibility of staging the season-opener as well as a four-day test session on the island kingdom," according to Kevin Eason of the London Times.
|Ecclestone and Bahrain Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa|
Al-Khalifa said, "We will see. Perhaps it will not be a good idea but I am talking to Bernie about it." F1’s 11 teams "look set to approve a plan" that would see the sport arrive in Bahrain in late February for a week of testing, to be followed by a first grand prix of the season that could be as early as March 2, almost two weeks earlier than the start of this season.
The race "will come at a premium price but money is no object for the Bahrainis," who are already paying $40M-a-year for the privilege of staging a grand prix. The Royal family also believes that the kingdom "has surmounted its problems of protests and rioting that blighted the return of the race" to the F1 calendar after the uprisings of the Arab Spring.
The teams "want to start testing earlier next year because of the introduction of the new, high-tech 1.6-litre engines with their complex battery packs and electronics." London Times