FILE - Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain celebrates after winning the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, Bahrain, on March 28, 2021. Formula One has extended its contract to continue racing in Bahrain until 2036, saying that the Middle Eastern country holds a “very special place in our sport.” Ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix last year, seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton urged the global racing series to not ignore human rights violations in the countries where it stages races. (Lars Baron, Pool via AP)
FILE - Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain celebrates after winning the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, Bahrain, on March 28, 2021. Formula One has extended its contract to continue racing in Bahrain until 2036, saying that the Middle Eastern country holds a “very special place in our sport.” Ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix last year, seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton urged the global racing series to not ignore human rights violations in the countries where it stages races. (Lars Baron, Pool via AP)

PARIS (AP) — Formula One extended its contract to continue racing in Bahrain until 2036, saying Friday that the Middle Eastern country holds a “very special place in our sport.”

The Sakhir-based circuit has held F1 races since 2004 and will stage the season-opener next month.

Ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix last year, seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton urged the global racing series to not ignore human rights violations in the countries where it stages races. Bahrain has been accused of exploiting the series to gloss over, or “sportswash,” its human rights record.

The Bahrain GP is scheduled March 20 and the Bahrain International Circuit will also host pre-season testing. Hamilton won the race in 2021.

“Since 2004, we have had some fantastic races in Sakhir and we cannot wait to be back there for the start of the 2022 championship as we begin a new era for the sport,” F1 chief executive Stefano Domenicali said in a statement.

Domenicali credited Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa with helping to extend the partnership.

“Bahrain was the first country in the Middle East to welcome Formula 1 and it has a very special place in our sport, and I personally want to thank HRH Prince Salman and his team for their dedication and hard work throughout our partnership and look forward to the many years of racing ahead of us,” Domenicali said.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen won a thrilling title last year in controversial fashion with a last-lap overtake of Hamilton’s Mercedes in the final race at the Abu Dhabi GP.

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