Ecclestone keen to extend Bahrain race deal

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Bernie Ecclestone says he’s eager to extend Bahrain’s contract to hold a round of the world championship despite continuing controversy over the race.

The grand prix was the focus of protests for the second year in a row following its reinstatement onto the calendar.

Bahrain was cut from the calendar in 2011 after pro-democracy protests were brutally suppressed by the government, leading to a state of emergency being declared.

“I feel they do a super job and we’re more than happy to give them a new contract for five years,” Ecclestone told Reuters.

The Bahrain race organizers have expressed an interest in holding the first race of the season as they did in 2006 and 2010. The race was supposed to be the season-opener in 2011 before it was postponed and eventually cancelled due to the unrest.

Bahrain International Circuit chairman Zayed Alzayani said a date change was “on the table”.

“For us, we’re ready any day of the year, but we will have to see how it fits with logistics, other dates, other countries hosting and if there are conflicts with any other events they may have,” he continued, adding that an extension on their current contract could be signed later this year. Bahrain’s current contract expires in 2016.

F1 2017 driver review: Esteban Ocon

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Esteban Ocon

Team: Sahara Force India
Car No.: 31
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P5 (Spain, Mexico)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 87
Championship Position: 8th

A shining star in Mercedes’ junior programme, Esteban Ocon vaulted fellow youngster Pascal Wehrlein in the pecking order to secure a seat at Force India for 2017 – and boy, did he live up to the hype.

Ocon arrived at Force India with half a season of racing under his belt after his outings with Manor late in 2016, but wasted little time in settling in, scoring points on debut in Australia after winning a thrilling three-way fight with Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso.

The Frenchman spent much of the year close to teammate Sergio Perez – even if things did get a little too close in Canada, Baku and, finally, Spa, prompting the team to introduce team orders – and impressed the entire paddock with his displays.

While no podium was forthcoming, Ocon was often leading the midfield fight, enjoying three straight finishes ahead of Perez from Japan to Mexico. Given how well Perez is rated on-track in the paddock, to have convincingly beaten him in such fashion did a lot for Ocon’s reputation.

The term ‘Oconsistency’ also came into F1’s dictionary as he set a new record for consecutive finishes from his first race, with his retirement in Brazil ending the streak at 27 grands prix. It was also his first retirement in a single-seater race since the 2014 Macau Grand Prix.

The highlight moment arguably came at Monza, though, when Ocon stuck his Force India third on the grid through torrential rain in qualifying. While he would drop to P6 at the checkered flag, the display nevertheless cemented his place as one of F1’s rising stars.

Mercedes rates Ocon very highly, and with Valtteri Bottas’ future beyond 2018 already being questioned by the paddock, a good season could see the youngster move on up to the top table of F1 for 2019. His progression in the next 12 months will be fascinating to keep track of.

Season High: Lining up P3 on the grid at Monza after a rainy qualifying.

Season Low: Clashing with Perez in Baku, costing Force India a possible podium.