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DATE News (chronologically)
04/12/13
f1
Latest F1 news in brief - Friday UPDATE Updates shown in red below.

Lewis Hamilton feeling better
Clean-shaven Button surprised by Vettel's aggression
04/12/13
  • Schumacher signs 'long term' Mercedes deal
  • Hamilton 'better' after Shanghai allergy
  • Clean-shaven Button wants McLaren to shave tenths
  • 'No emotion' as Sutil returns to China on top form
  • Massa's form not worrying sarcastic Alonso
  • Magnussen is new McLaren reserve
  • Raikkonen not denying Red Bull rumors
  • Mercedes also scraps team orders - Lauda
  • Nice guys don't win F1 titles - Surer
  • Mercedes must win a title soon - Wolff
  • Vettel was 'paying back' Red Bull teammate Webber
  • Webber brushes off Vettel's jibe
  • Vettel: Not a disaster
  • Hamilton: Soft tire not right for Shanghai
  • Button surprised by Vettel's approach
  • Protests threaten to overshadow Bahrain GP again New
  • Sponsors show limited appetite for Bahrain GP New

Schumacher signs 'long term' Mercedes deal
(GMM)  Michael Schumacher has signed a long-term ambassadorial deal with Mercedes, and will help his former F1 employer with 'safety and comfort systems'.

"I am a declared supporter of driving assistance systems both in the racing car and in the road going car," the seven time world champion said in a media statement.

Hamilton 'better' after Shanghai allergy
(GMM)  Lewis Hamilton was back at work with Mercedes on Friday.

On Thursday, the 2008 world champion sat out his media, sponsor and team commitments in Shanghai to recover from symptoms of allergy.

But the 28-year-old was at work on Friday for the two ninety minute practice sessions ahead of the Chinese grand prix weekend.

"Feeling much better today, thanks," Hamilton told his supporters on Twitter before arriving at the circuit in the morning.

Hamilton was second fastest in the morning session, behind his teammate and 2012 Shanghai winner Nico Rosberg.

Button shaves for American sponsor Gillette
Clean-shaven Button wants McLaren to shave tenths
(GMM)  Jenson Button, whose face is normally covered in designer
stubble, walked through Shanghai's paddock gates unusually clean-shaven.

It is surely to mark McLaren's new sponsor deal with Gillette, the razor giant.

But the 2009 world champion would prefer to shave tenths off the team's struggling MP4-28 car, which has already been outscored not only by usual rivals Red Bull, Lotus, Ferrari and Mercedes in 2013, but also Force India and Sauber.

Button said in China that McLaren was caught out by its rivals' decisions to carefully evolve their 2013 cars, rather than emulate the Woking-based team's radical approach.

"I think the one thing that surprised us is that nobody else has gone our route," he said.  "We were the only team to do that."

It's arguably an even tougher situation for team newcomer Sergio Perez, who thought he was joining the great McLaren only to find the giant in crisis.

The Mexican told EFE news agency: "No matter what the team is or what it has achieved before, there is always pressure to get the results.

"There's always pressure when you drive for McLaren."

'No emotion' as Sutil returns to China on top form
(GMM)  The last time Adrian Sutil was in China, he was involved in a nightclub altercation that almost ended his formula one career.

It was early 2011, and the blood-stained run-in with Lotus team executive Eric Lux ultimately left him with a criminal conviction and without his Force India seat.

But he is back on the grid and right back on form in 2013, even moving Red Bull's influential Dr Helmut Marko to mark the 30-year-old German as the surprise of the season so far.

"It is nice to hear that there are still things that surprise him (Marko)," Sutil smiled in an interview with F1's official website.

Marko is not the only paddock insider expressing surprise at Sutil's 2013 form.

"The car, for my opinion, is very good.  It's the best car I've driven," he said on Thursday.

But it's also being driven by teammate Paul di Resta, who over the winter only narrowly missed out on becoming Lewis Hamilton's successor at McLaren.

Told he has been quicker than the sister car so far, Sutil answered: "Yes, to be honest I thought I would need some more time to get into the racing mode again."

So with his career right back on track, Sutil was wasting no time explaining his emotions about being back in Shanghai, or whether he worried Chinese authorities would even let him back in with a criminal record.

"No worries, no emotions," he told reporters on Thursday.  "The past, for me, is done and I'm concentrating on my future."

Massa's form not worrying sarcastic Alonso
(GMM)  Fernando Alonso eased the heat on Sebastian Vettel in China by driving away from his theory the German might have been to blame for their Sepang clash.

Comments made by Alonso after the Malaysian grand prix hinted the Spaniard suspected Vettel slowed on purpose before the Ferrari made contact on the first lap.

"It was a surprise to find him there, almost stopped," Alonso, who retired after his damaged wing collapsed, had said.  "I don't know what speed he was doing."

But Alonso on Thursday dismissed the theory it was a calculated ploy by Vettel to destroy his race, insisting: "That's impossible.

"There are 22 cars on the track and there is no way of knowing which line the drivers behind you will take," he is quoted by La Gazzetta dello Sport.

"It was a mistake from me."

Actually, Alonso's biggest headache at present is being caused by his once struggling teammate Felipe Massa.

Another competitive qualifying session by the Brazilian this weekend will make it an unprecedented fifth time on the trot he has beaten Alonso on Saturday.

Alonso, however, said it makes little sense to keep counting statistics about consecutive qualifying sessions over a winter period.

"After 200 races, it's very surprising that two qualifying sessions matter so much (to the media)," he said in China.

Then he became sarcastic.

"I'm pleased that it's so important, because it means that when I finish ahead of him it will mean I have done a stratospheric lap.  We'll see if I can pull that magic here or later this year," said Alonso.

Similarly, when asked if Massa's pace is a worry, the 31-year-old quipped: "I haven't slept since Australia.  I only like to eat white rice.  I'm losing my hair.

"A huge drama."

More seriously, he said qualifying is much less important these days compared to the past.

"There were years when it was vital to start from the first row or from pole position, but since Pirelli arrived qualifying has become less and less important," he insisted.

However, Alonso paid tribute to Massa's top form.

"I think he is doing a fantastic job and driving at 100 per cent," he said.

But it remains to be seen what will happen if Massa can maintain his form.

"Alonso is the kind of driver who pulls out a knife to stop his teammate breathing," Brazilian commentator Lito Cavalcanti said on Sportv.

"Felipe is troubling him a lot, and he (Alonso) will react," he predicted.

Magnussen is new McLaren reserve
(GMM)  McLaren has a new reserve driver twitching on the bench in China.

Last year, the famous British team signed up promising 20-year-old Kevin Magnussen.

The Dane is the son of former Stewart driver and McLaren tester Jan.

The Danish media source Sporten said McLaren has confirmed that Magnussen has been officially appointed reserve driver for the Woking based team in China.

"I am officially the reserve both here and in Bahrain next week," he is quoted as saying.

"I will also be the reserve driver in a number of other grands prix this year, but exactly where is not yet settled," added Magnussen.

He told dr.dk, another Danish source: "Yes, I'm ready to race in formula one.  I would not feel uncomfortable.

"I would be nervous if I had to race without having tested the car, but I feel that I am as ready as I can be.

"This shows that McLaren have confidence in me, so I take it as a huge pat on the back," he continued.

"It is an excellent opportunity to get closer to the team and learn even more about formula one."

Meanwhile, Sebastien Buemi insists he will be back in his reserve driver role at Red Bull next week in Bahrain.

While the Swiss races his Toyota prototype in the UK this weekend, Red Bull's promising younger Antonio Felix da Costa is filling in for Buemi in China.

"I will be back in Bahrain," Buemi told Blick newspaper.

Raikkonen not denying Red Bull rumors
(GMM)  By refusing to deny them, Kimi Raikkonen has only fuelled rumors he is being lined up by Red Bull to replace Mark Webber in 2014.

In the wake of the 'Multi-21' affair and the relationship breakdown between Australian Webber and Sebastian Vettel, team powerbrokers Helmut Marko and Dietrich Mateschitz last week both named Finn Raikkonen as a candidate for the future.

"Formula one is full of rumors," the 33-year-old and 2007 world champion told Bild newspaper in Shanghai.

And Finland's Turun Sanomat quotes Raikkonen as saying: "In F1 there's always talk like this; about who's going where.

"It's quite normal, and anyway it's quite nice when you are mentioned, but I have no interest in starting to comment on rumors, which is something I've never done before," he insisted.

Raikkonen did, however, step back from his earlier claims that even retirement is an option for the end of his Lotus contract later this year.

"I don't have a contract so I don't really have a plan," he said, "but of course I probably will be (in F1).

"But you never know.  It is a funny place."

Mercedes also scraps team orders - Lauda
(GMM)  Like Red Bull, Mercedes has also scrapped team orders in the wake of the recent Malaysian grand prix.

Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber's already tenuous relationship was shattered at Sepang when Vettel ignored Red Bull's instruction that he stay behind the Australian.

And behind them, a frustrated Nico Rosberg followed his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton to the checkered flag, having been told by boss Ross Brawn to hold station.

The team's German-speaking faction led by Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda railed against Brawn's decision, leading to behind-the-scenes talks.

"Yeah, we've definitely discussed it and it's all sorted for the future," Rosberg told reporters on Thursday.

He didn't say what has been decided, but team chairman and shareholder Lauda did.

"We have sat down and agreed that, as of immediately, the drivers can drive their races against each other," the triple world champion said in an interview with Osterreich.

The new situation at Red Bull is similar, with Dr Helmut Marko admitting this week that team owner Dietrich Mateschitz was "very unhappy" with the Multi-21 saga.

"There will be no more team orders by us," he said.

Team boss Christian Horner confirmed: "I had discussions with Dietrich and we agreed that Red Bull is not a fan of team orders.

"Therefore we will not impose team orders at the end of a race," he is quoted by the BBC.  "However, we expect the drivers to act on the information they have from the team."

Asked if that will make life easier or more difficult, Webber said in China: "Probably easier, yep."

Nice guys don't win F1 titles - Surer
(GMM)  The big victim of the 'Multi-21' affair has been Sebastian Vettel's image.

Previously the British humor-cracking and Beatles-loving 'Mr. Nice Guy', the triple world champion's reputation has come crashing down after ignoring team orders in Malaysia and then declaring Mark Webber didn't "deserve" to be left in the lead.

"He (Vettel) seems like an easy-going character," Jenson Button said in China on Thursday.

"It's surprising for him to say that."

John Watson, a former McLaren driver, said he was also surprised by Vettel's furrowed-brow outbursts on Thursday.

"He apologized profusely in Malaysia and now he's gone back on it," he told the Telegraph.

"It's as though Bambi has turned into a werewolf."

Some F1 purists are fond of ruthless, win-at-all-costs greats, but Watson said Vettel's nastiness has been unseemly.

"I've tried to lead my life with certain values in place and the way Vettel has behaved makes me think 'I don't like you'," the Briton admitted.

Similarly, Fernando Alonso has never shied away from a fight and is regarded as perhaps F1's toughest character, but he insists that even ruthlessness has its limits.

"Casillas is employed by Real Madrid to keep the goals," he told Spanish reporters in China.  "He can't just play striker if he wants to."

Former driver and German-language commentator Marc Surer said the Vettel saga is simply an illustration that nice guys don't win.

"It's unfortunate that a nice driver cannot be world champion," he is quoted by SID news agency.  "The only exception is Jenson Button.

"Otherwise, all of them have such strong egos, pursuing their goals without regard for others."

Toto Wolff
Mercedes must win a title soon - Wolff
(GMM)  Mercedes must win a title, new director and shareholder Toto Wolff insists.

Alongside Niki Lauda, Wolff has swept into the Brackley based team with the goal of ending Mercedes' now three-year run of on-the-cusp mediocrity.

"Our first goal is to be perceived as a frontrunner, on par with Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull," the Austrian told Germany's Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

"But then there must be a world title," Wolff insisted.

"We are doing this to make the brand image more dynamic and younger.

"When you think of Mercedes, you should think of the Silver Arrows racing successfully."

Vettel was 'paying back' Red Bull teammate Webber
Sebastian Vettel admits he was "indirectly" paying back Mark Webber in Malaysia for previous situations between the two drivers and says he would do the same again as his team-mate "didn't deserve" to win.

Following Vettel's decision to ignore team orders and overtake Webber to win the race at Sepang, occasions when Webber has done similar have been cited in Vettel's defense. Having himself said "I respect Mark a lot as a racing driver but I think there was more than one occasions in the past when he could have helped the team but he didn't", Vettel was asked if he was "paying him back" for not getting his team-mate's help in Brazil last year, to which he replied: "Probably you could say indirectly so.

"But as I tried to explain after the race in my opinion it's always best to be truthful. Maybe sometimes the truth is not what the people want to hear because as you can see controversy is more popular than the truth. I told you after the race what happened; I was racing, as a racing driver I was solely focused on winning the race. I got a call on the radio which I heard but I didn't understand at the time.

"I should have understood, that's why I apologized to the team because in my action I put myself above the team but that wasn't my intention. Whether you believe me or not is up to you."

Despite his apologies, Vettel said he would ignore the team order again in the same situation because Webber "didn't deserve" to win.

"I think if I had understood the message then obviously I would have thought about it - I'm not sure I can give you a perfect answer on this - but thinking about it I probably had realized at the moment that there was quite a conflict. On the one hand I think I'm the kind of guy that respects team decisions but on the other hand Mark is not the one that deserved it at the time.

"I'm not sure I can give you a proper answer because in the moment it might be different but I'd probably do the same ... I apologized because with my action I disobeyed a team order and put myself about the team. Had I understood the message then I think I would have thought about it, reflected on what it means, what the team wants me to do - to leave Mark in first place and me finish second - I would have thought about it and probably done the same thing because Mark didn't deserve that."
Acknowledging that Webber would not help him if required later in the championship, Vettel said: "I think being completely honest I never had support from his side. I have got a lot of support from the team and I think the team is supporting both of us in the same way." ESPN.com

Webber brushes off Vettel's jibe
Mark Webber insists he is not interested in what Sebastian Vettel has to say following the pair's spat at the Malaysian Grand Prix and is instead focusing on Red Bull's struggles to get its tires to last.

The main focus of Thursday's press briefings was the rift between Webber and Vettel, with Vettel creating headlines when he admitted his decision to defy team orders in Malaysia was a form of payback after the pair's previous clashes. Webber had spoken earlier on Thursday, but when asked to respond to Vettel's comments on Friday he gave a short answer before talking directly about how his practice sessions had gone.

"I'm not too bothered what he says," Webber said, adding: "Today was a good day for us, we had a good amount of mileage for one thing. There are some quick cars out there, nothing unusual there from what we've seen already in the championship.

"We saw that in Malaysia in qualifying before it rained - there were some pretty quick cars out there over one lap. We are getting some good information still in this early phase of learning the tires. We have a little bit of work to do and we need to keep working on understanding the tires."

Asked if the tires were a concern, Webber said Red Bull could take some confidence from the fact its rivals are also struggling.

"As long as we're in a similar boat we're all right," he added. "If you are on your won with certain problems then you get a bit more concerned, but we're not the only team. Trying to make that tire work is not easy so we'll try to make the tire work so we'll look at the information tonight and how we will tackle the race in that case." ESPN.com

Vettel: Not a disaster
Sebastian Vettel is confident Red Bull will be better shape come Saturday after falling off the pace in Shanghai practice.

Arriving in China with a heavy weight on his shoulders following the Malaysian controversy, Vettel failed to shine in Friday's sessions.

The German, who had been running in top four in FP1 on the medium tires, could only manage 10th on the soft tires in the afternoon's outing.

Despite being 1.451s down on Felipe Massa - a bigger gap that he had expected - the Red Bull racer insists there is nothing to be worried about.

"I think it was a tricky day for us," Vettel said.

"I seemed to struggle a little more this afternoon, with the gap to the guys at the top being a bit bigger than I would like to see.

"But I think we have two or three things that we need to work on and we should be in better shape tomorrow.

"It is not a disaster. It is not as if we are in the dark, we know a little bit about what we need to do.

"I don't have the answer right now, but we'll look into the stuff that we did because once you run, you try to follow your program, get as many laps and results as you can, so there's not much time to analyze during the session. That is what we do after the session

Hamilton: Soft tire not right for Shanghai
Lewis Hamilton says Pirelli’s Soft compound "doesn’t feel like the right tire" to be using for this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix at Shanghai, with the field struggling to make the rubber last longer than one flying lap during second free practice.

The Mercedes driver, who backed up pace-setting team-mate Nico Rosberg in the opening session, complained of severe degradation over his team radio and suggested after the session that Pirelli's tire choice has been slightly too aggressive.

"The Soft is hardcore," Hamilton told reporters at Shanghai after the second free practice session. "I don’t know why, but it doesn’t feel like the right tire for this circuit. I did a couple of laps and the tires just disintegrated. It was quite unusual. Otherwise, the track is great fun to drive and hopefully will give us lots of opportunities for overtaking in the race."

Hamilton drew confidence from what has been a positive start to the weekend and is adamant that more pace could have been extracted if he had enjoyed a traffic-free run.

"I think mine and Nico’s pace was quite competitive today," explained Hamilton, who finished seventh quickest in the afternoon's second practice session. "I think Nico got a lap in, but I got a bit of traffic with [Nico] Hülkenberg on my lap. I think we would have been quite high up today. Ten or fifteen minutes later everyone went a bit quicker.

"I think we are there or thereabouts, but who knows. Tomorrow we will find out."

But Pirelli motorsport chief Paul Hembery said the soft tire was doing exactly what it was supposed to.

"If the medium did the same then I'd be concerned, but it doesn't," he said.

"It's a qualifying tire. It'll be a bit like Melbourne I guess where the top teams are going to be forced to qualify on the softer tire because it's such a performance advantage and within the first 10 laps they are going to have to pit.

"Some of the Q2 teams might opt to start on the medium tire and try and gain some track position whilst the first 10 cars drop in.

"It's looking like some can be looking at a two-stop race and worst case three so pretty much in line with what we are looking for."

Button surprised by Vettel's approach
Jenson Button says he has been slightly taken aback by the attitude of Red Bull rival Sebastian Vettel, who revealed earlier on Thursday that he would probably ignore team orders again if presented with a similar scenario to the Malaysian Grand Prix.

Addressing the media in China, Button argued that Vettel was wrong to disobey pit wall instructions and overtake team-mate Mark Webber for victory at Sepang, while the McLaren driver also expressed surprise at the German's follow-up comments.

When asked about Vettel's controversial claim that he would repeat his actions, Button commented: "Lots of people have won World Championships without being like that. I'm surprised he said that. He's such a talented driver and he seems like a driver that the team loves. And they should as he's very successful and seems like an easy-going character.

"It's surprising for him to say that. He knew what he was doing. We all want to win, but if you're told to hold station and you know that's the rule before the race then kick up about it before the race, don't just do the opposite in the race. I think that's the biggest issue. If we had that issue here, I wouldn't have agreed before we went racing. In the race, you have to do as you're supposed to do."

Although Button sees the need for team orders in certain situations, he believes it was far too early for Red Bull to be issuing commands to its drivers in Malaysia.

"I do not like team orders," Button went on to explain. "I've said that before, but they're legal. I would understand if I couldn't win the championship anymore and the team said to me 'Right, if you're leading this race and your team-mate is second and needs the points to win the championship' then I would let him past. I wouldn't even need to be told that. I would do it myself because it's the right thing to do, but in the second race of the season I don't think it's the right thing to do."

Button added that Vettel’s actions would be understandable to a certain extent if he misunderstood the 'multi 21' hold position order, but the 2009 World Champion does not believe this to be the case after the 25-year-old’s recent description of events.

"There's definitely the possibility of making a mistake [with team orders], and if that was the case with Sebastian then it's fair enough," said Button. "Maybe that was the case, but it just doesn't sound that way from what he was saying afterwards."

Protests threaten to overshadow Bahrain GP again
Tension is rising yet again at Bahrain as an increased number of pro-democracy protests has recently been replied to by the government. Local sources claim 20 people have been arrested by masked policy officers, with amongst them some protagonist protesters.

The 20 arrests were all made following raids in towns close to the Bahrain International Circuit where F1 is to hold its Grand Prix in one week.

Human Rights Watch has heard this from differing local sources that these arrests were made without the proper papers are required by the Bahraini law, and that people held in detention were denied their legal rights. To HRW, this clearly raises further questions on the stance of the Bahrain government.

“This latest crackdown and the way it’s being carried out raises new questions about the Bahraini authorities’ commitment to reform,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “These raids and detentions suggest that officials are more concerned with getting activists out of circulation for the Formula 1 race than with addressing the legitimate grievances that have led so many Bahrainis to take to the streets.”

Yesterday, another protest outside of the state's capital was dispersed following the firing of tear-gas and sound bombs, a witness said to Malaysian newspaper "The Star". There, protesters came together specifically against the Bahrain Grand Prix, shouting "Your race is a crime" and "Down with Hamad," in reference to the king, who heads a Sunni minority regime in the Shiite majority island state.

The Bahrain government on the other hand claimed that security forces were responding to an "an escalation of extremely riotous behavior". The national press agency also just released a report claiming that ticket sales are spurring as "excitement grows".

"With all the excitement kicking off in just six days, tickets have been moving fast as people snap up their tickets to ensure their place at the Grand Prix."

Indeed, with the Chinese Grand Prix still ongoing, many eyes are already at Bahrain, and for the third time a row, now only for the quoted "excitement" ahead of a Formula One race.

Sponsors show limited appetite for Bahrain GP
Companies who help to bankroll Formula One motor racing are limiting their involvement in the Bahrain Grand Prix this month, saving some of their marketing dollars for less politically sensitive races.

The grand prix was cancelled in 2011 following a bloody crackdown on a pro-democracy uprising, but sponsors were left squirming last year when the sport's rulers ignored calls by campaigners in Bahrain and abroad for teams not to race, while police and youths staged nightly clashes with teargas and petrol bombs.

The race on April 21 will again draw attention to the human rights situation in the Gulf island kingdom. Taking a pragmatic approach, many sponsors will make the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November the focus for their Formula One promotional activities in the Middle East this year.

"Abu Dhabi has taken a lot away from Bahrain. Notwithstanding the trouble in Bahrain, the Abu Dhabi race is more interesting for sponsors," said Jim Wright, a sponsorship consultant who worked in the sport for 18 years.

Bahrain was the first Middle East country to host a grand prix in 2004, but Abu Dhabi joined the calendar in 2009 with the Yas Marina circuit, lavish even by Formula One standards.

"The timing at the end of the year is also an advantage for Abu Dhabi," added Wright. "Now, it's starting to be spring (in Europe), and sponsors have an opportunity to take people to races in Barcelona and Monte Carlo next month," he added.

Bahrain has been hit by unrest since pro-democracy demonstrations in early 2011, inspired by the broader regional "Arab Spring" protests that to date have forced rulers from power in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.

Critics say staging the race hands a propaganda boost to Bahrain's rulers, though last year's, despite dressing itself in the slogan "UniF1ed", was seen as a public relations setback for the government, with television images of the unrest and heavy police presence broadcast around the world.

Two well known brands will be missing from the McLaren team at the Sakhir desert circuit in Bahrain, though the companies involved say they are not making a political point.

Diageo says its Johnnie Walker whisky brand will not be on display because of local cultural sensitivities about alcohol.

"In common with other Grands Prix in Muslim countries and elsewhere, for the Bahrain race we had always planned to respect local customs and laws and not to activate Johnnie Walker branding on the cars or drivers," a Diageo spokeswoman said.

Vodafone, which also sponsors the McLaren team, said logos of its Middle East partner Zain would feature on the team's cars and driver uniforms in Bahrain rather than its own brand.

This was a commercial decision rather than a political one, said Vodafone, which is ending its sponsorship of the team at the end of the season.

BIG PAYDAY

Formula One, built into a hugely successful business by Briton Bernie Ecclestone over the past four decades, makes most of its money from fees paid by venues to host races and from television rights.

Bahrain pays an estimated $40 million annually to be part of the 19-race calendar, making it a valuable fixture for the sport. Ecclestone said last week he had no concerns about the race this year after Bahrain's opposition and government resumed reconciliation talks in February.

The CEO of the Bahrain International Circuit also struck a bullish note after a race held against a backdrop of half-empty stands last year.

"Ticket sales, for example, are way above last year's ticket sales, so there are positive signs there," Sheikh Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa told Reuters.

"This is a big thing for Bahrain, and at the same time it puts the Kingdom of Bahrain on the map of the world," he added.

The race itself is sponsored by Gulf Air, Bahrain's national carrier, which is part of the portfolio of its sovereign wealth fund Mumtalakat. The fund also owns a stake in the McLaren team.

Corporate guests attending Formula One races get a chance to rub shoulders with drivers like world champion Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton in the paddock area behind the pit lane, enjoying gourmet food and the best seats in the house.

That comes at a price. Weekend hospitality packages for Bahrain are available online for more than 2 800 pounds ($4 300)($4 300), including free ear plugs. There have been few takers, according to industry sources in Britain.

Caution seems to be the unspoken word among sponsors, normally keen to talk up their involvement with the sport.

Oil company Shell, a sponsor of the famous Italian Ferrari team, said its involvement in Bahrain would be the same as last year, sending only three technical analysts to provide support on fuel and lubricants.

Swiss bank UBS, a global sponsor of Formula One, will not host any clients in Bahrain, focusing its hospitality in the region on the race in Abu Dhabi.

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