F1 bosses backing Bahrain

2012-03-29 08:00

LONDON, England - Formula 1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone and team bosses joined Bahrain officials in a strong show of support for the decision to race in the troubled Gulf kingdom in April.

Red Bull chief Christian Horner, McLaren's Martin Whitmarsh, Mercedes' chief executive Nick Fry, Frank Williams and Ecclestone all attended a media lunch hosted by Bahrain circuit officials.

Tyre supplier Pirelli and the governing International Automobile Federation were also represented in a turnout that left no doubt about their commitment to a race that activists would like to see cancelled.


The 2011 race was scrapped due to an uprising in Bahrain but Ecclestone was firm about the 2012 event going ahead, despite continuing daily protests and at least 33 deaths since June 2011.

Ecclestone said: "(People) are saying things they don't understand. People say to me 'Oh there's not going to be a race'. I say 'How do you know?','Ah, we know because we saw, we read or we heard' or something like that. It's all nonsense.

"Forget the financial side, it's nothing to do with that at all," he added when asked about the commercial importance of the race to F1's revenues. These people were brave enough at the beginning to start an event in that part of the world. That's it. We'll be there as long as they want us," he said.

Ecclestone doubted security would be an issue, despite the April 22 race being seen as an obvious target for anti-government demonstrators.

Ecclestone said: "I'm absolutely sure that whatever is necessary to do will be done. Probably not necessary. We've never been concerned about security in the past. I don't understand why we should be now."

Zayed Alzayani, chairman of the Bahrain International Circuit, said it would be business as normal and laughed off a suggestion that violence could tarnish the event.


Alzayani said: "I've been mugged in New York twice and I still go. My brother was mugged out of Harrods (department store). Someone stuck a knife to him and took off his Rolex. He comes to London 10 times a year. These incidents can happen anywhere."

"I don't think that will happen," he added when asked about more serious attacks. "We are not witnessing that in Bahrain. There hasn't been any assaults on foreigners... maybe you are referring to the British guy who got his fingers chopped off, but that was an isolated incident."

The GP is Bahrain's largest sporting event and the only one with global reach. Alzayani hoped it would be a catalyst for unity and reconciliation.

He read out a letter from Britain's ambassador to Bahrain, Iain Lindsey, backing the decision for the race to go ahead. A majority of the 12 F1 teams are based in Britain while Bahrain was a British protectorate until 1971. Lindsey wrote: "It is in nobody's interests that Bahrain should be denied the much-needed financial injection which the GP will bring to the economy."

Alzayani said the race contributed $220-million directly to the local economy and about R3-billion indirectly.

Alzayani said: "I remember last year on June 3 when we were reinstated I went to a wedding party and (the bride's) grandfather, an 80-year-old taxi driver, came up and hugged me and said 'I make more in that week than in three months normally'. This is how much it touches the average citizen."

The Bahrain circuit sacked 29 employees in 2011 after the uprising but Alzayani said 25 had been reinstated.

Horner said the teams, who made clear their reluctance to going in 2011, were ready to race: "Bahrain is on the calendar. The FIA has obviously stayed very closely informed of the situation. When you enter the championship at the beginning of the year, you enter it to do all of the races.

"We have always been treated well in Bahrain previously and we will go there and do our very best to put on a good show. We have had reassurance from the governing body and we have to trust in their judgement. Personnel safety is something we take very seriously but I think all of the relevant precautions will already be in place."