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â€¢ Bernie Ecclestone is adamant F1 race will go ahead
â€¢ The event is about restoring Bahrain’s reputation
Bernie Ecclestone on Wednesday promised Bahrain that Formula One will race in the Gulf kingdom for as long as the sport is needed.
In a strong show of support for Bahrain as the country attempts to spread a positive message ahead of next month’s return to the F1 calendar, Ecclestone was joined by a number of team principals for a lunch at the Royal Automobile Club on Pall Mall hosted by the Bahrain International Circuit chief executive, Sheikh Salman bin Isa al-Khalifa, and chairman, Zayed R Alzayani.
McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh, Christian Horner from Red Bull, Sir Frank Williams, Mercedes’s chief executive, Nick Fry, and Pirelli motorsport director, Paul Hembery, were all in attendance to hear Alzayani, in particular, insist Bahrain will be a safe place to visit.
Ecclestone said: “Of course the race is going to happen. No worries at all. What I don’t understand are the negative statements being made, people catching them and continuing them. They’re saying things they don’t understand.
“People say to me ‘There’s not going to be a race.’ And I say ‘Well how do you know?’ And they tell me they saw or read something, but it’s all nonsense.
“These people [the Bahrainis] were brave enough to start an event in that part of the world, and that’s it. We’ll be there as long as they want us.”
Ecclestone, who is considering flying into Bahrain a few days early and immediately after the race in China, has no concerns with regard to the security situation. “Whatever is necessary to do will be done, and which is probably not necessary anyway,” added Ecclestone. “We’ve never been concerned about security in the past. I don’t understand why people should be concerned now.”
With isolated clashes between protesters and police occurring on an apparently daily basis in outlying villages around the capital Manama, the fear is one incident involving anyone involved in F1 will cast a shadow over the event and the country.
Alzayani, however, is far from concerned as he said: “I’ve been mugged in New York twice and I still go back. My brother was mugged outside Harrods. Somebody stuck a knife to him and took off his Rolex, but he still comes to London 10 times a year.
“These incidents can happen anywhere. It’s not going to stop our grand prix. But I don’t think anything will happen. We are not witnessing that [kind of incident] in Bahrain.
“You will go there and see it’s business as usual. Yes, we have some isolated clashes with police in villages, but some of them are tiny â€“ 10 to 15 people. It’s nothing, yet it gets blown out of all proportion and it makes it sound bad, that the whole nation is rising up.”
The loss of the race last year cost Bahrain’s economy half a billion dollars, so appreciably there is a considerable amount of money at stake.
For Bahrain, however, this year’s grand prix is about restoring its battered reputation in the eyes of the world who will be watching with interest the events in a few weeks’ time.
“You can’t turn history around, what happened, happened,” said Alzayani. “But you can learn from it, move on, and the government acknowledged that. Nobody is saying ‘No, nothing wrong happened’. We all lived it, but what we are saying now is that what happened is not happening today, and it’s time to move on.”
From the perspective of the teams, they can only believe all they are being told will prove to be the truth.
Horner said: “We’ve had reassurances from the governing body [the FIA], and we have to trust in their judgment. Safety is something they take very seriously, so they’ve conducted various studies and tours, and obviously been closely involved with the promoters of the event.”