Ecclestone: Crown Prince will tell me if Bahrain is safe

Bernie Ecclestone has told the BBC that he is relying on the Crown Prince to tell him whether it is safe for the Bahrain GP to go ahead. He added that a decision would be made on Tuesday.

The mood in the country has changed into one of optimism over the last 24 hours. Protesters re-took Pearl Square after the military withdrew, and Crown Prince Salman ibn Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa has attempted to calm the situation by agreeing to talk to opposition leaders.

The Crown Prince, who is the man behind the GP and Bernie’s main point of contact, is also the Supreme Commander of the Bahraini defence force.

“He will know whether it’s safe for us to be there,” Ecclestone told the BBC. “I’ve no idea. I’m not there, so I don’t know. We won’t advise people to go unless it’s safe.”

As expressed previously on this blog, it seems that the bottom line is who blinks first in terms of a cancellation – and what the commercial implications of that will be.

While the more upbeat mood may be perfectly timed in terms of the deadline Bernie gave for the decision, there is clearly no guarantee that the situation won’t change once again, especially given the lengthy time scale involved.

Team personnel beginning heading out to the test as early as Saturday February 26, and some will still be there until as late as  Tuesday March 15, a couple of days after the race. The risks inherent in assuming now that there will be no further trouble over that 16-17 day period are pretty obvious.

Meanwhile the warnings against “non-essential” travel issued by many governments remain in place.

One report today says that the teams may not have an issue with insurance unless there is a definitive ban. However the BBC’s travel expert confirmed on TV yesterday that for most normal travel insurance – the type that many non-team personnel will have – would be invalidated if a warning was ignored.

Reports in UK newspapers this morning suggest that the teams are not keen to go. On Friday they had a two-hour meeting in Barcelona, but the politically correct view – as expressed afterwards by spokesman Christian Horner – was that it was down to FOM and the FIA.

There has no word from the FIA since Jean Todt spoke to the Irish media at an FIA safety function early last week, before the situation became more crticial. However the FIA President is presumably being kept abreast of developments by Sheikh Abdullah Bin Isa Al-Khalifa, President of the Bahrain Motor Federation. He was one of Todt’s key allies in his election campaign, helping to pull in votes from the Middle East. He was invited to host one of the first WMSC meetings under the new president, in March 2010.

Aside from Horner’s remarks, there has been no official comment either from FOTA, whose chairman Martin Whitmarsh is in an awkward position, since McLaren is 42% owned by the Bahraini government. The team is also planning a major display of historic F1 cars, as well as promotion for the MP4-12C road car, at Sakhir. Clearly the company is counting on the Middle East for a lot of sales.

Leaving aside the safety issue, there remains the question of whether it is appropriate for F1 to be in Bahrain so soon after this week’s events. It would probably be fair to assume that many sponsors will not be keen to have a high profile presence, and that entertaining of guests – at what is one of the busiest and most lucrative races of the year for the Paddock Club – may be cut back. It also remains to be seen whether the media personalities who regularly attend the race as guests of the royal family are as keen to go this year.

Meanwhile the BBC’s Jake Humphrey made the following observation on Twitter this morning: “For those asking. Just because the race goes ahead doesn’t mean the BBC have to be there. We’ll make a call, and I know what mine will be…”

23 Comments

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23 responses to “Ecclestone: Crown Prince will tell me if Bahrain is safe

  1. Chris

    The crown prince has diffused the situation by withdrawing the army, but he needs to do a lot more to make it both safe and acceptable for the GP to go ahead.
    * Arrest those responsible for the shootings, and those who issued the orders to open fire, no matter how far up the chain of command that goes.
    * Pay compensation to the injured, and the relatives of those killed.
    * Make some significant concessions to the protesters.
    Whether he can, and will, do these things will determine whether the GP goes ahead. In that sense, Bernie is right, The Crown Prince will make the decision — but by his actions.

    • Interesting and logical points. I didn’t want to go into that sort of detail in this particular story as I’m not a political reporter and have no expertise. and I’ve tried when possible to keep to the specific GP-related elements on this blog. As it is I’ve had some negative comments here and there from people who just don’t seem to understand. The regular theme has been ‘fans were happy to watch last year and are thus hypocrites’ and ‘bad stuff happens in China and we race there.’

  2. Abuelo Paul

    A very fair report. But it just shows once again the power that the clown prince has over F1. Why? Can someone please explain how on earth one man can have total say about when, where and who competes in, a Formula 1 motor race?
    It doesn’t happen in any other sport. So F1 is no longer a sport just a huge commercial enterprise for our Bernie to accumulate more millions each year and kindly pass a few coppers down to the teams.
    I have asked this same question many times to various journalists and as always, never is it answered, cos we are too afraid, or just don’t know how it happened.

    • Terry

      It’s all to do with money and whoever backs down first will lose loads of it.

      Bernie pulls out, Bahrain demands the millions in fees back from FOM, while the FOM still has to pay the teams.
      The teams can’t refuse to go as it’s written in the Concorde Agreement that they guarantee to attend every race, if they don’t turn up they have broken the contract and Bernie has every right to withhold the TV money due to them – it’s why all the teams went to the trouble of running the warm up lap at Indy 2005 so they had actually ‘taken part’ in the race.

      If Bahrain cancels it then Bahrain loses the money they have paid to let them host the race. The only way FOM will cancel the race is if the travel warnings are still in place at the time of the race as no doubt clauses in the contract will mean it gives them a reason to cancel but don’t have to give the race fees back.

  3. If it is left to Ecclestone and his cronies ( and I count the Crown Prince as one
    of those), the power of the dollar will hold sway as usual. F1, and by implication everyone involved in it, has long been morally bankrupt and doubtless will continue to be.

  4. Tom

    So Bernie has effectively just given licence to the dictator’s son to use the race as a propaganda tool for his government.

    Perhaps he remembers how smoothly the Munich olympics went in 1936.

  5. Adam

    Listen carefully. Can you hear that sound? That’s the noise what little is left of F1’s reputation & credibility in the outside world going down the toilet makes. The news is far more positive from Bahrain, & let’s hope it continues for the people of that country. But it doesn’t change what has occured over the past few days. Nor is there any guarantee that things will continue to improve. Can anyone think of a more spineless example of ‘passing the buck’…

  6. F1 has changed too much over the last 50 years. A lawyer is needed to interpret the rules. Standardisation seems to be taking the place of innovation (engines, tyres, and so on). “Scandals” are now become part of the spectator sport. Ethics and values have been tossed aside in the pursuit of money. So few seem to care for those who have lost their lives in Bahrain at the orders of the the same charming crown prince mentioned in your blog. F1 has truly become a circus – no longer a sport. I am sad.

  7. Bri

    If you had invested many millions in hosting a race to promote your country to the wider world why on earth would you then turn around and admit to the world that it is now too dangerous to visit? It would totally undermine an economic policy based on trying to attract the outside world in terms of both tourism and commercial investment.

    Even if a decision is made on Tuesday to go to Bahrain as they have been told it is “safe” then is F1 really prepared for the massive amounts of negative publicity it will subsequently attract at a time when most teams are taking second-rate pay drivers because they cannot get enough sponsors. F1 seems to be following the same PR policy of big banks – continue acting as if nothing has happened, of course no-one will notice…

    What also happens if the situation deteriorates after Tuesday and F1 is seen as the perfect vehicle with which to give the ruling elite a bloody nose in full televised public view. Making a few conciliatory noises in the run up to Tuesday is fine but as the cliche goes – actions speak louder than words…

  8. Cliff

    Am I hearing this right? The Crown Prince that will tell Bernie it is “safe” to race is the same person who is in charge of the Bahraini defense forces? The same forces that have murdered peaceful protesters? Please tell me I am mistaken.

    • Nick F

      I was just about to make the same point. Well said.

      I don’t know, but I would imagine that the coming F1 races may have been something the people in charge had in mind when they ordered the crackdown. I don’t know if that is the case, but I think it’s possible. F1 should punish them by not going there. If they don’t care about the lives of their people, they may well care about losing money and prestige.

      Not being able to get insurance is a great reason not to go. Great excuse and probably also true. Bernie doesn’t have to feel bad about having any kind of political opinion that way.

  9. Ben G

    That’s very brave and courageous of Jake & the BBC, if they are planning to skip the race. Presumably they’ll do it from a studio. I hope they don’t go.

  10. Peter Coffman

    It is so disheartening, although not surprising, that “safety” is Bernie’s only consideration – or at least the only one he’ll admit to. Mark Webber showed a healthier perspective on the BBC website today, while remaining admirably a-political:

    “When you hear of people losing their lives, this is a tragedy. It’s probably not the best time to go there for a sporting event. They have bigger things, bigger priorities.”

    • Steve

      You call that brave and courageous to broadcast from a studio? I call that someone still wanting to collect a paycheck while pretending to have morals.

  11. Tony

    What is the commercial rights holder got to do with the race going ahead? It must be the FIA that should make the decision if a race happens or not?
    The FIA is responsible for the event as a whole, not just the commercial rights holder acting on his own, self serving, behalf
    I smell Jean Todt handing Mr E his head in this mess.

  12. Alex

    Just watched the CNN interview with the Crown Prince. I sincerely wish for the people of Bahrain that his words are more substantial than platitudes and that they see a change. I hope the Crown Prince will now choose to cancel this year’s GP can to reflect the solemn sentiments he expressed.

  13. andrew

    Great idea – take the advice of a murdering lunatic. This royal family ordered the army to shoot their ‘subjects’ in the head for walking peacefully down a road with flowers!

    No room for a heart or soul in the big corporate world. Serious questions need to be asked about the sanity of this crown prince.

  14. Adam

    Thank you to Jake, thank you to Mark Webber. I guess if any of the drivers was going to say something, it was always going to be Mark. Compare this to the deafening sound of silence from the FIA. Tony, think your point is well made. Surely the international governing body of motorsport should be where the decision is made. Not even mentioned on the FIA website that there might potentially be a problem. Same on formula1.com – the official website of Formula 1! Instead, the decision has been handed (by whom? The FIA? Bernie?) to the Crown Prince, who it looks like he is head of the armed forces and police. So if he was the one who pulled both off the streets yesterday, one assumes he is also the one who sanctioned there actions earlier in the week. Am I missing something here or is F1 (and us fans by default?) being sucked into some sort of moral vacuum…

  15. The Bahrain GP should be cancelled, plain and simple. If not, we the fans, and the free media should boycott this event. It is an insult to the people of Bahrain and an open acceptance of government aggression upon it’s own (unarmed) people, for the GP to take place. The least we can do is to refuse to watch the race or any associated coverage, thus removing any benefits to sponsors and teams. Business should not be allowed to ignore “politics”, especially when governments are killing their own people.

  16. Peter

    Adam,

    Just a quick question, we hear of the race being “postponed” until things settle down. What if the royal family are over thrown and a new goverment is elected, could this new goverment rip up the Grand Prix contract and say “Well, that was the last guys pet project. We don’t want anything to do with it anymore. We would rather spend the money on better things.” Could this happen? And what would happen to the 40% of McLaren??

    • Alex

      I bet Ron and Martin are working out how to buy their shares back…

    • I hear what you’re saying, but I don’t think it’s going to get that far – the royals will still be there but, one assumes, with a little less power. As for the McLaren thing, I guess there’s a grey area as to whether that is ultimately state money or not.

      • Peter

        Just read this from the BBC live updates. It’s the last sentence that has left me confused having kept up to date with all the transit problems of a new race instead of Bahrain.

        “There’s a possibility the Bahrain Grand Prix may be called off due to the protests, amid reports that all 12 Formula One teams have decided not to travel to the country for testing on 3 March. There is speculation the race could be relocated to the UK. ”

        Where has this speculation come from??? As have been heavily discussed, there is a HUGE problem with the freights travel arrangements…

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