SHANGHAI // The Bahrain Grand Prix will go ahead next week as planned unless the kingdom's crown prince decides to cancel it, according to Bernie Ecclestone, the commercial rights owner of Formula One.
Ecclestone, speaking on arrival at the Shanghai International Circuit ahead of this weekend's Chinese Grand Prix, said he will hold a meeting with the 12 teams today and although he insisted Bahrain is not on the agenda, it is understood the topic of the controversial race will feature prominently.
“I'm meeting the teams on unrelated matters,” Ecclestone said. “There's nothing about Bahrain, or Barcelona or Monaco or anywhere. The race is on the calendar; it's scheduled. The only people that can do anything about it is the national sporting authority in the country – [they] can ask for it to be withdrawn. I don't see any difference between here [China] and Bahrain. It's the same. It's another race on the calendar.”
Last year's grand prix in Bahrain was postponed and later cancelled by the country's crown prince, Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, following a Shi'ite uprising against Bahrain's Sunni rulers. With protests intensifying in recent weeks, calls have been made to cancel the event once more. Bahrain officials believe the race can help unite the country and have used the tagline “Unified: One nation in celebration” in their marketing material, but Ecclestone is adamant sport and politics must remain separate.
“We enter a country in the normal way, we don't deal with the religion or the politics,” he said. “It's not our business running the country. We go there. If it was a pop singer they'd be there, they'd sing. I shall be there for sure. I hope everybody is there. We shouldn't be getting involved with other people's politics.”
Ecclestone, when asked earlier in the week, said the decision whether the race would go ahead lay with the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile and Jean Todt, the president of the governing body for world motorsports, is expected to attend this weekend's race in China. However, it is understood he will not arrive until Saturday after stopping for meetings in Taiwan.
Several of the F1 fraternity have quietly raised concerns for their safety, but Ecclestone insisted he is confident that security will not be an issue. “I don't see why it should be,” he said. “I don't think the people in Bahrain have got anything against Formula One team people or journalists.
“Apparently people are there carrying out their business as normal, I'm told. In fact, there's a guy from Lotus who went over to check things and he said it was business as usual. But I don't know, I haven't been there.”
Ecclestone dismissed suggestions he stopped in Bahrain on his way to China. “Sorry, I can't give you nice things to write," he added. "What I've said is the facts and the truth.”
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