The calamitous Bahrain grand prix saga has not jeopardised the island Kingdom’s future on the F1 calendar. That is the strident claim of Bernie Ecclestone, after the F1 chief executive and FIA president Jean Todt displayed rare unity as they insisted the country’s civil and political problems would not affect the grand prix.
But amid the bubbling Bahrain saga, Ecclestone had suggested that Bahrain might face trouble when it comes to negotiating a new contract, with the existing agreement only set to extend for three more years. However, when asked by Reuters if F1 is going to keep returning to Bahrain despite this year’s troubles, Ecclestone insisted on Sunday before leaving the Persian Gulf: “Absolutely. Forever. No problem.”
Like Todt, he even played down the damage done to F1’s reputation this weekend.
“I think it’s good because people talk about things, you know. You know what they say — there is no such thing as bad publicity,” said Ecclestone.
In truth, reputation damage has undoubtedly been done. But Roger Benoit, the veteran correspondent for the Swiss newspaper Blick, admitted he is dismayed with how politics interfered with sport so strikingly this weekend.
“On all continents, somewhere, all hell is breaking loose. And as a Formula One reporter, you’re flying around this globe two or three times a year,” he wrote. “We go to countries that are politically explosive. Where human rights are violated, where poverty reigns.
“But we hardly talk about it – not in China, India, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore or Brazil. In 2014, we’re going to Russia. Years ago, our circus happily danced around in apartheid South Africa, and the military dictatorship of Argentina.
“Formula One is pure entertainment. Detached from the problems of the world. But here, in Bahrain, every reporter entered the political field, whether he liked to or not,” wrote Benoit.
So that is why Ecclestone is unapologetic, after championing the Bahrain grand prix.
“Because, basically, the problems they have in Bahrain have nothing to do with F1,” the 81-year-old told El Pais newspaper. “The relevant agencies gave the nod as far as security was concerned, and I think it is clear that they were not wrong.”
He also sees no problem with F1 being used as a political tool.
“Governments want to have an F1 race for the same reason as they want the Olympics. We come to agreements with the promoters and, if that’s good for the country, fine,” said Ecclestone.