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Bahrain eyes return to season-opening slot

McLaren Formula One driver Sergio Perez of Mexico drives during the first practice session of the Bahrain F1 Grand Prix at the Sakhir circui
McLaren Formula One driver Sergio Perez of Mexico drives during the first practice session of the Bahrain F1 Grand Prix at the Sakhir circui

By Alan Baldwin

MANAMA (Reuters) - Bahrain could return to a season-opening slot on the Formula One calendar, with a test at the Sakhir circuit preceding it, if local officials can convince commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone.

Circuit chairman Zayed Alzayani told reporters that his personal preference was for the controversial race to be the first of the year rather than third or fourth.

"It's a good start to the season, it gives us the chance to have the teams here longer, there is more anticipation, more unknowns, how the cars will react to the new tires, the regulations, the drivers are just back into their rhythm," he explained.

"But the decision is not entirely ours," said Alzayani. "We are talking about 2014 onwards but it's a bit early to talk about the calendar for 2014. We're open to suggestion."

Bahrain replaced Australia as the first race of the season in 2006 and 2010 and would have done so in 2011 had that race not been postponed and then called off due to civil unrest.

It has also been the third and fourth rounds. The current contract runs to 2016.

Ecclestone said he was willing to consider it.

"We could do, I suppose," he told Reuters. "We need to have a look at it."

Ferrari and now-departed Toyota held a pre-season test at the circuit in 2008 and teams had been scheduled to hold another in 2011. Alzayani said that idea was back on the table.

"The only problem we have - not us, but the teams - is the cost of the logistics in coming here and going back to Europe," he said.

"That is one of the advantages of having the first race, in that they can come to the last test and then leave most of their equipment here until race weekend.

"This was the plan in 2011. We were supposed to have the test at the end of February, and then the race on March 13. So if we go after the first race, then we will go after a test as well but again that is not our decision."

Whereas the calendar is put together by Ecclestone, teams decide where they test, with this year's taking place in Spain.

(Editing by Clare Fallon)

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