High-profile sponsors are nervous, as Formula One ploughs ahead with next week’s Bahrain grand prix.
Despite widespread trepidation felt within the paddock this weekend in Shanghai, the FIA has declared that there is no reason the Sakhir event cannot go ahead. And after meeting with the teams on Friday, Bernie Ecclestone told reporters the race is “200 per cent” on.
But The Times reports that, amid the threat of violence, some sponsors have pulled the plug on providing hospitality for guests next weekend.
“When you have an environment like Bahrain then all the sponsors will be watching developments very, very closely and talking to each other,” a source said. “It’s a case of ‘watch this space’ basically.”
However, the British newspaper said it is unlikely any major sponsors will pull their logos from the cars.
“(They) will effectively just have to follow the sport,” said Tim Bampton, of the motor sports marketing company Just Marketing. “They will have to watch and wait to see what happens even though they could be caught in the vortex.”
But, at the same time, it is believed that sponsors’ contracts with the teams – such as Vodafone’s estimated $75m deal with McLaren – contain “brand damage” clauses. An added complication for McLaren is that it is part owned by Bahrain’s sovereign wealth fund, with Mumtalakat Holdings “on course to own half the business” according to writer Kevin Eason.
Also under heavy scrutiny is the conspicuously silent FIA president Jean Todt, whose son Nicolas shares ownership of his GP2 team with Bahrain’s controversial crown prince.
“We all know why it (the Bahrain saga) might have dragged a bit,” Mark Webber is quoted by the Telegraph. “F1 is like that. There’s a lot of funding and finances that have come from Abu Dhabi and Bahrain and the Middle East.
“They’re very excited about F1 and they clearly want to give it another go. Let’s see if it works,” added the Red Bull driver.