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Motor racing-Formula One mulls quick U-turn on Bahrain
Though Bernie Ecclestone is calling for a rethink on Bahrain date, the teams want India restored to Oct. 30.
June 8, 2011 3:14 by Reuters
The fate of the Bahrain Grand Prix looked uncertain on Tuesday after Formula One teams opposed a controversial decision to reschedule the postponed race and commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone suggested a fresh vote.
Max Mosley, former head of the governing International Automobile Federation (FIA) and a long-time Ecclestone ally, also weighed in by saying the calendar could not be changed without the written agreement of all the teams and hopes of holding the grand prix this year looked doomed.
The FIA said on Friday that its world motor sport council had agreed Bahrain, scheduled as the season-opener in March but called off due to bloody civil unrest in the Gulf kingdom, would take India’s place on Oct. 30.
The inaugural New Delhi event was moved to a date yet to be agreed as the last race of the season in December.
“Until the written agreement of the teams is forthcoming, you can’t actually change the date. It can’t be done,” Mosley, an expert on the sport’s statutes after repeated battles of his own with the teams, told BBC radio.
Ecclestone told the Times newspaper that it would be better to move Bahrain to the end of the season and leave India where it had been.
“The way things are at the moment, we have no idea what is going to happen,” Ecclestone said of the situation in Bahrain, where police have continued to arrest Shi’ite protestors after ending 11 weeks of emergency law.
“Better that we move Bahrain to the end of the season and, if things are safe and well, then that is fine, we can go. If they are not, then we don’t go and there are no problems.”
Ecclestone said money, with Bahrain paying an estimated $40 million to host the race this year, was not the issue.
“It is whether it is safe and good to have a race, that is the issue,” added the 80-year-old. “We can change this October 30 date by having a vote by fax if necessary. It can be done, and fast.”
The teams, against extending the championship well into December, said they had written to all parties concerned.
“The teams have discussed the 2011 calendar within FOTA and have expressed their considered views privately in a letter to the FIA, FOM (Ecclestone) and BIC (Bahrain Circuit),” said a spokesperson for the teams’ body FOTA.
“It would be inappropriate therefore to comment further at this stage.”
A team source who declined to be identified said they wanted India restored to its Oct. 30 date and were against rescheduling Bahrain for logistical reasons.
“I don’t think there is the slightest chance the (Bahrain) grand prix will actually happen,” said Mosley, who left office in 2009 but remains influential within the FIA.
Ecclestone questioned a report by the FIA’s Spanish vice-president Carlos Gracia, who visited Bahrain last week.
“We listened to that report from the FIA and that was saying there were no problems at all in Bahrain,” said the Briton. “But that is not what I am hearing and I think we can see that we need to be careful.”
Officials in the country have tried to play down fears that the race and teams could become a target for protesters.
“We respect and understand those who may have concerns regards the reinstatement of the Grand Prix following recent events,” said a spokesperson for the Bahrain International Circuit.
“However, the situation in Bahrain is markedly different from earlier in the year and we maintain that we will be ready to host in October, if the FIA and FOTA remain willing for it to be hosted then.”
The spokesperson added that travel restrictions have been lifted and there was widespread support in the country for Bahrain’s biggest sporting event.
The FIA said on Friday that the decision had been unanimously ‘agreed’ by the world motor sport council meeting in Barcelona, despite the presence of Force India team principal Vijay Mallya and Ferrari’s Stefano Domenicali.
FIA president Jean Todt, questioned subsequently, could not confirm that there had been unanimous agreement however.
“I couldn’t say precisely,” Tuesday’s Daily Telegraph quoted him as saying. “Was it 25 hands? 27? I saw all the hands up and said, ‘Ah, unanimous agreement’. I pronounced it. And nobody objected. No one said ‘I abstained’ or ‘I voted no’.” (By Alan Baldwin; Additional reporting by Erika Solomon in Manama; Editing by Justin Palmer; Video by Kippreport)