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China, Bahrain on 2004 F1 calendar
Alan Baldwin | September 12, 2003 15:31 IST
China and Bahrain will make Formula One debuts next season with Belgium's Spa circuit pencilled in again after a year's absence, the sport's governing body said on Thursday.
Axed Canada and Austria were missing from the 17 race calendar approved by the International Automobile Federation (FIA)'s World Motor Sport Council.
Among other changes, Brazil's Interlagos circuit in Sao Paulo will replace Japan's Suzuka as the last race of the year on October 24.
That will allow the season's finale to be broadcast on European prime time evening television rather than the early hours of the morning.
Japan was given an October 10 date, allowing it to follow on directly from the new race in China on September 26 for logistical convenience.
Bahrain will be the third race on the calendar, slotting in on April 4 after Australia and Malaysia and before the European Grand Prix at the Nuerburgring on April 25.
The German track, situated in the Eifel hills near the boyhood home of Ferrari's world champion Michael Schumacher, is likely to offer a cold and wet homecoming to Europe.
"Oops. Take your snow jackets with you," the surprised Schumacher said when told of the change. "Maybe we will have a chance to finally use our rain tyres.
"Obviously, it's no surprise to hear that Spa is back...and I think it's going to be interesting to have new circuits such as Bahrain and Shanghai where we can experience new things, I'm really looking forward to that."
The San Marino Grand Prix at Imola, which has been the first European race of the season in recent years, moves to a June 6 date between Monaco on May 23 and the U.S. Grand Prix in Indianapolis on June 20.
Next year's 10th anniversary of the death of Brazilian champion Ayrton Senna at Imola on May 1, 1994, falls between the Nuerburgring and the May 9 Spanish Grand Prix.
Belgium's Spa-Francorchamps circuit, Schumacher's favourite track and one that really tests the drivers, returns on August 29 after being dropped this year because of local legislation against tobacco advertising.
Three of the top four teams are heavily backed by cigarette brands, while BAR are part-owned by British American Tobacco.
The FIA said Spa remained provisional subject to a new tobacco law being approved in Belgium.
Tobacco legislation was cited earlier in the year as the reason for dropping Canada and Austria's races.
China's Shanghai and the race in Bahrain remained subject to approval of their facilities, billed as the most advanced in Formula One and the work of renowned circuit designer Hermann Tilke.
The British Grand Prix, whose future had been in doubt after critical comments by Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone, was confirmed at Silverstone on July 4.
The French race at Magny-Cours on July 11 was listed as provisional subject to the negotiation of a new contract.