F1 governing body the FIA has positioned itself at-odds – and not for the first time – with the sport's commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone, by insisting that contrary to the latter's hint at an extended deadline, a decision on the possibility of re-staging the cancelled 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix is still expected by Sunday.
After the season curtain-raiser was unable to go ahead on 13 March as planned in the wake of a violent civil uprising in the desert kingdom, the FIA gave race organisers until 1 May to determine whether or not they felt the Bahrain Grand Prix could be safely rescheduled later this year should a suitable slot be found on the calendar to accommodate it – most likely in-between the closing rounds in Abu Dhabi and Brazil.
However, with an official state-of-emergency still in-force in Bahrain, all-bar essential travel there widely discouraged, no end to the unrest in sight – and 1 May now a mere two days away – Ecclestone yesterday said that 'we need to wait a little bit to see exactly how progress is made', suggesting a new deadline of 'early June or something like that' [see separate story – click here
There are several schools of thought as to the rationale behind the Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive's unanticipated clemency, but the two most viable are that either it is just the latest salvo in his war with FIA President Jean Todt in the guise of an attempt to undermine the Frenchman's authority – or that having vowed to waive Bahrain its $40 million race-hosting fee should the grand prix not be able to take place, he is eager not to lose the money. The governing body certainly seems to have been taken somewhat unawares by Ecclestone's remarks.
“As far as we are concerned, a decision is still due on Sunday,” a spokesman told The Daily Telegraph
. “Because it's a weekend, it may be Monday morning that we announce the decision, but we haven't spoken to Mr. Ecclestone about any delay. The decision will be a joint one between the FIA, Formula One Management and the Bahrain authorities.”
Yesterday, tensions were heightened when – following a trial conducted behind closed doors – a military court in Bahrain sentenced four men to death over the killing of two military policemen during the anti-government riots, with three more sentenced to life imprisonment. Thirty people have died since the turmoil began on 14 February.