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…”