Bahrain's Bloodshed Has Ecclestone Hours From Cancelling Its GP
By Malcolm Folley - Daily Mail
Bernie Ecclestone is expected to cancel the Bahrain Grand Prix within 72 hours as pro-democracy protestors appeared to have gained ground on the streets of the capital, Manama.
Ecclestone, the Formula One rights holder, has little choice other than to sacrifice the start of the 2011 world championship, after the Foreign Office advised against all nonessential travel to the Gulf state.
Even before that directive, the F1 community had agreed privately that it would be both irresponsible and indefensible to arrive in Bahrain at a time when the country is counting its dead after a week of bloodshed.
Unrest: Thousands of pro-democracy protestors are out on the streets of the capital, Manama
Ferrari legend Niki Lauda has argued for common sense to prevail regarding the grand prix, scheduled for March 13. 'The race should be cancelled,' he said.
Mercedes president Norbert Haug added: 'The safety of our employees is more important than anything else.'
Ecclestone would prefer it if Bahrain's royal family asked for the race to be called off rather than leave the decision to him and the sport's governing body FIA.
Wary: Vettel's father has cancelled his Bahrain flight
Bahrain's rulers raised the $40million they pay to host the first round of the world championship by $20m to retain the honour of launching the F1 season, after outbidding the promoters of the Australian Grand Prix last year.
And Ecclestone remains contractually obliged to deliver a full grid of cars to be assured his payment.
Last week's bloody political upheaval in Bahrain however, has effectively rendered any existing contract with him a worthless document.
German president Christian Wulff has cancelled a planned trip to the region at the end of next month and the German Foreign Office issued similar advice to that from the Foreign Office in London, warning against any but essential travel to Bahrain.
German world champion Sebastian Vettel, who set the quickest time for the second day running yesterday when testing his latest-generation Red Bull car here, said: 'It's pretty simple; if it's dangerous there, we will not drive, if it's not dangerous, we will.'
His father Norbert has already cancelled his flight to Bahrain on Friday. Britons Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton, both testing their new McLaren car here this weekend, find themselves in the awkward position of driving for a team who, some years ago, sold a major shareholding to the Bahrain ruling family.
They own 42 per cent of the McLaren Group, which includes McLaren Formula One, and they have a 50 per cent stake in McLaren Automotive, which manufactures the McLaren MP4-12C, a high performance sports car.
Awkward position: the Bahrain ruling family hold a major shareholding in McLaren
Officially, the teams will not announce until Monday whether the pre-race test session planned for Bahrain on March 3-6 will go ahead as scheduled.
But in reality, they have already inquired about the feasibility of conducting further testing either here at the Circuit de Catalunya or at Jerez, in southern Spain.
If the Bahrain Grand Prix is called off, the Australian Grand Prix, to be held in Melbourne on March 27, would become the curtain-raiser to the championship.