23 April 2012
Bahrain to remain on F1 schedule 'forever', insists Ecclestone
Bernie Ecclestone sees no reason to drop Bahrain from future F1 schedules, despite the controversy this year's event provoked.
Bernie Ecclestone looks certain to have stirred up further controversy over F1's involvement with the strife-hit kingdom of Bahrain by suggesting that the two will remain hand-in-hand 'forever'.
The Bahrain Grand Prix returned to the F1 schedule in 2012, a year after the race was cancelled due to civil unrest stemming from the Arab Spring uprising that swept through northern Africa and the Middle East. Only confirmed by the FIA a week before the F1 circus was due to decamp to Manama, the race served as a renewed focus for protests and demonstrations although, despite the death of one protestor on Friday night, the situation does not appear to have been as bloody as some sections of the media reported.
The event itself was not disrupted, but the weekend culminated in reports of a British television crew being arrested and GP2 teams - who have to stay on for another event this coming week - being caught up in further violence.
Ecclestone has long appeared blase when asked to comment on the prospect of the race going ahead, dismissing reports of trouble in Bahrain as media hype, suggesting that going there was no more dangerous than going to Barcelona and offering to ride shotgun with spooked Force India team members caught up in a firebombing on Wednesday night.
While smoke could be seen rising at various spots on the horizon before the race, and there were reports of tyres being set alight in numerous villages, the sport's ringmaster remained unrepentent when subsequently asked whether he thought it prudent to return to Bahrain in future seasons.
"Absolutely. Forever. No problem," he told Reuters, "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.
"[Motorsport in the Middle East] is growing all the time, and other places are interested. I think it will grow here for sure."
While other F1 aspirants, such as Turkey and Korea, have either lost their place on the calendar or are rumoured to do so due to poor crowd numbers, the Bahrain International Circuit does not appear to face the same threat, despite a disappointing turn-out on Sunday. Already seen as the plaything of the ruling Sunnis, the race is not dependent on ticket sales to survive, but the 'added attractions' laid on in an attempt to prove that, under the 'UniF1ed' banner, all was well in the kingdom did not prove as big a draw as anticipated.
"It's like Disneyland," a foreigner working among the off-track attractions commented, surveying the music stage, circus performers and musical theatre, in the stalls. "This is the best entertainment village I've seen in a long time. They've really pushed the boat out - for obvious reasons."
While the official attendance was given as 28,000, television pictures appeared to show far fewer people in the grandstands, while the Paddock Club, popular among corporate sponsors and their guests, was largely deserted. The majority of the crowd was reckoned to be made up of expatriates taking the opportunity to see F1 first-hand, and not the various sections of the population that the royal family had sought to reunite after a year of unrest.
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