ABU DHABI // The Bahrain Grand Prix will be given another reprieve as Formula One continues to provide as much time as possible to the Gulf kingdom while the country decides whether it is capable of hosting a rescheduled round of this year’s World Championship.
Bernie Ecclestone, F1’s commercial rights owner, said that no decision was any closer, despite the Federation International de l’Automobile (FIA), the sport’s governing body, having imposed a May 1 deadline.
“We need to wait a little bit to see exactly how progress is made,” Ecclestone told Reuters. “I suppose we’d be safe by early June or something like that.”
The FIA World Motor Sport Council are due to meet in early June, but the decision lies first with Bahrain’s Crown Prince, Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, who must formally request the race to be reinstated on to the calendar.
It was originally supposed to be the season-opening event, but was postponed following unrest in the kingdom.
The Crown Prince declined an invitation to today’s British Royal wedding in order to focus on matters closer to home.
“Things can change in a couple of weeks ... so you don’t know,” Ecclestone said.
“All of a sudden, everything might be peaceful in a month’s time and they are happy to run the event and so we are happy to be there.”
Team principals have raised concerns regarding where on the calendar it could be squeezed in and Martin Whitmarsh, the McLaren-Mercedes chief and chairman of the Formula One Teams Association (Fota), told The National last week he could not see any solution other than to extend the season.
With tickets for all 16 of the remaining grands prix now on sale – entry to the race at Yas Marina Circuit went on sale yesterday – reinstating the race at Sakhir will now prove even more difficult for the sport’s decision-makers.
An FIA spokesman said the body was unaware of any potential further delay and was still expecting a decision by the Sunday deadline.
Ecclestone also holds hope that Turkey can remain on the calendar after next weekend’s race, regardless of the head of Istanbul’s Chamber of Commerce saying the Turkish Grand Prix would not take place next year following a disagreement over funding.
“Turkey generally is one of our better circuits,” Ecclestone said of the Hermann Tilke-designed track at Istanbul Park. “All the facilities there are good. Everything is good, except we don’t have a big crowd. I would be disappointed if we lose it, but we can’t keep subsidising it.”
Ecclestone is also the race promoter for the Turkish Grand Prix, which has been on the calendar since 2005. However, two years ago, less than 40,000 weekend passes were sold, while last year saw some stands entirely empty.
“We have a long lease on the circuit and we have an escape clause. We can escape now if we want to,” Ecclestone said. “When our first agreement was made, [the Turkish Government] subsidised ticket revenue so everyone was expecting a whole bunch of people to be there and if there wasn’t, the government was going to make up for the missing tickets. It looks very much like the crowd is going to be much bigger this year, so it means the government’s involvement will be considerably less.”
Ecclestone also dismissed talk of Rupert Murdoch purchasing Formula One as “media-driven” and said the Australian media magnate’s chances are “close to zero”.
The series is owned by CVC Capital Partners, a private equity firm, and managed by Ecclestone, but reports last week claimed Murdoch’s News Corp had held talks with one major F1 team – believed to be Ferrari – and Carlos Slim, the Mexican billionaire with ties to Sauber.
“It looks very much like someone who is trying to see if they can make [money],” Ecclestone said.
One potential stumbling block is the Concorde Agreement, a deal between the FIA, Ecclestone and Fota that dictates how the television revenue is divided. Sponsors prefer races to be shown free-to-air rather than News Corp’s subscription channels.
“If, and I think the chances are close to zero, but if Murdoch was to buy certainly he’d have to broadcast some free-to-air like it is now.”
The Concorde Agreement expires at the end of next year.
* With agencies