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Bahrain coughs up for the grand prix that never was

20 September 2011

Despite Bernie Ecclestone having previously insisted that he would 'not charge them for a race they are not getting', it has emerged that organisers of the abortive 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix have nonetheless paid F1's commercial rights-holder the estimated £25 million hosting fee.

Bahrain has been one of the biggest on-off-on-off sagas in recent memory, with the 2011 curtain-raiser originally postponed due to rising civil unrest in the Middle Eastern desert kingdom and then, three months later, controversially reinstated – against the wishes of drivers and teams, with Red Bull Racing star Mark Webber musing that 'F1 and sport in general isn't above having a social responsibility and conscience' and former FIA President Max Mosley firmly labelling it 'a mistake which will not be forgotten' and one liable to 'cost F1 dear'.

In the face of persistent opposition, only a week later again, Bahraini organisers bowed to mounting pressure and officially abandoned their hopes of rescheduling the grand prix for the end of the campaign – and notwithstanding Ecclestone's assurance that he would waive the race-hosting fee after the event was called off, it seems they have coughed up regardless.

Praising them as 'lovely people', the Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive went on to admit that he is hopeful the 2012 edition of the race – slated for 22 April – will not similarly be beset by political protests and violence.

“I don't think turnover will be down this year,” the 80-year-old told The Independent when asked about F1's 2011 balance sheet. “I think the turnover and profit will be more-or-less the same as 2010. I think it will be flat, because we were paid for Bahrain. I said we will give them the money back and they said, 'don't bother'. They are lovely people. I spoke to the Bahrainis yesterday, and they said everything is going to be fine. I hope they are right for their sake, not ours.”

As to future F1 calendars, meanwhile, the USA is set to return next season – for the first time in six years – and Russia has been pencilled in for 2014, whilst South Africa, Mexico and even the financially-beleaguered Greece are similarly on the agenda. A delegation from the Mexican beach resort of Cancun reportedly visited Ecclestone recently.

“After Russia, I would like to go to South Africa and Mexico,” reflected the British billionaire. “Both countries are trying to do something. Greece are also trying to do an F1 race; the Germans will lend them some money.”