Bernie Ecclestone has given an extraordinary interview to BBC Radio that could turn into a PR disaster both for the commercial rights holder and the sport itself.
Having indicated yesterday that a cancellation of the Bahrain GP looked likely, he took a different view today, saying that his people on the ground there have told him that the situation has improved.
He also said that had there been a decision today, he would not have cancelled the GP2 Asia race.
Ecclestone’s conversation with the BBC’s Dan Roan – who at times seemed to barely believe what he was hearing – is sure to attract wide coverage. It does not paint him in a very good light at a time when many voices are calling for an immediate cancellation.
Asked by Roan for his views, Bernie said: “I haven’t spoken to anybody in the crown prince’s office this morning, but I spoke to our people who are there. And as you know we pulled the GP2 race. It’s the Asian series, so it’s not terribly important, and it doesn’t give a bad message to anybody, and we don’t want to take any chances. And that was yesterday we decided to do that.
“Probably today if we had to make the decision on the information I’ve got, we wouldn’t do that. But anyway it seems as if – they say – it’s quiet, no big problems.
“Now, they’re there. I don’t know if I was there or you were there we’d say there are problems, I’ve no idea. But that’s what our people said. I’m more hopeful today than I was yesterday.”
Asked when there might be a decision, Ecclestone said: “Middle of next week, I suppose.”
Quizzed on the commercial implications, he said: “We haven’t thought about that. It’s not good because TV companies have scheduled to broadcast the race, so it’s better than it happens than not.”
Roan asked about the bad PR the sport might get if it was seen to visit a country where there were issues with democracy.
“It seems as if people thought it was democratic a few weeks ago. Let’s wait and see, because we don’t know what the protesting is really about. We’ve never, ever, ever been involved in religion or politics. We don’t make decisions based on those things.”
In reference to the 1985 Belgian GP – postponed for four months after the track broke up – Ecclestone hinted for the first time that he might be able to find a new date.
“We scheduled that later. We may be able to do the same with this one. I hope we don’t have to do anything, I hope things will just carry on as normal. Obviously some people were killed, nobody’s happy with that, I’m quite sure.
“Let’s hope that this all blows away. In these parts there’s always been skirmishes. Perhaps it’s a bit more than that.”
You can hear it for yourself here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/motorsport/formula_one/9401826.stm