Why there has been no decision about France

The French Grand Prix should have been called off by now but the first day of business after the Christmas and New Year holidays has passed without any word from either the FIA or Formula One Administration.

And that suggests that the intention is to keep a certain amount of flexibility about the F1 calendar until it is clear what is going to happen with the Bahrain Grand Prix in April. The Formula 1 teams have said that they will not take part in 18 races unless they are paid $2m each. They are unlikely to reconsider this because an extra race costs them money and the smaller teams cannot afford to pay for additional races. The decision will need unanimity and so the future of the French race appears to rest on the security situation in Bahrain.

The Middle East is extremely tense at the moment with Foreign Office warnings in a number of countries, warning Britons to avoid gathering in public places and to be careful because of the risk of terrorist attacks. In March last year there was a bomb outside the US Navy base at Al-Jufair in Bahrain and later a former Iraqi intelligence officer was arrested and jailed for having caused the blast. Bahrain was the scene of frequent protests against the US-led war in Iraq.

There have been regular attacks in Saudi Arabia in the wake of a suicide bombing in May which killed 35 people, including nine Americans. In the months there were a variety of minor attacks and then in November a large explosion rocked a Riyadh residential compound housing foreigners. This led to harsher warnings about terrorist attacks across the Gulf.

In recent days the Middle East has been disrupted by the crash of an airliner at the resort of Sharm el-Sheik in Egypt, which killed all 148 people onboard, most of them French holidaymakers. Worryingly, this coincided with British Prime Minister Tony Blair's family holiday at the same resort. The Egyptian government said immediately after the Sharm-el-Sheik crash that it had not been caused by terrorism, despite the fact that there were numerous eyewitness reports of a loud explosion; there were no distress calls, unusual given that the plane was at at least 5000 ft when it was last in contact and there are question marks over the wreckage field, which does not appear to be consistent with what normally happens when a plane crashes intact into the sea.

The incident coincided with heightened airline security and the cancellation or delay of seven British and French flights to the United States because of fears that a passenger plane could be used in a terrorist attack.

The crash in Egypt could be related to a concerted effort by militant Islamists to cripple Egypt's lucrative tourist industry, dating back to 1992 when the Gama'a al-Islamiya group warned tourists not to enter the province of Qena. This was followed by a series of minor attacks and then in 1996 17 Greeks were killed in an attack on a hotel near the pyramids. A year later terrorists ambushed, shot and killed more than 50 tourists at Luxor and this was followed in 1999 by the crash of an EgyptAir Boeing 767 off the US coast, killing all 217 people on board. US accident investigators said that the plane was deliberately crashed by the co-pilot but Egypt rejected the suggestion.

Although terrorism may not be involved, the French Justice Minister Dominique Perben has asked state prosecutors to open a preliminary manslaughter investigation into the crash.

The F1 teams are currently remaining upbeat about Bahrain but if the dangers of holding a race are judged to be too great, it is possible that the French GP will be able to get back on to the F1 calendar without the need for the organisers to pay the extra $20m for an 18th race.

One issue which has not yet been discussed is whether or not the insurance companies involved in the sport will be willing to underwrite a venture into such a troubled region.

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