Ecclestone refuses to cancel Bahrain GP
Bernie Ecclestone has offered to speak with protesters in Bahrain this week as Formula One prepares for the most controversial race of the year.
But as the sport's chief executive and commercial-rights holder spoke, the February 14 Coalition, an underground youth protest movement, was announcing a week-long campaign of "volcanic flames" and the country was bracing itself for even more violence than last year.
Since then, there has been only silence from Todt and the FIA. But Ecclestone has moved to ease the growing tensions as teams arrive this week. Earlier this month he said everything would be fine. But now, clearly concerned about the situation, he said: "I'm happy to talk to anybody about this, as I did before.
"We don't want to see trouble. We don't want to see people arguing and fighting about things we don't understand, because we really don't understand. We don't want to see people repressed as a result of the race.
"Some people feel it's our fault there are problems. We are extremely sympathetic to them. Don't forget, I was the one, when we had apartheid in South Africa, who pulled the race."
Bahrain is worth £40m a year to F1, which is why the sport is loath to leave. But last year, in the paddock, it was difficult to find anyone who wanted to be there and – aside from all the issues in this most politicized of the Gulf nations – it is hard to argue that sport should take place in such an environment.
Every day during last year's race week there were skirmishes between the security forces and Arab Spring-inspired pro-democracy demonstrators who wanted the event called off, as it was in 2011 when dozens were killed.
In 2012 there were stun grenades, petrol bombs and tear gas, and in the capital, Manama, and the outlying villages it was sometimes noisier than it was at the track.
Four members of the Force India team were caught up in a petrol bomb attack and last week the Labour MP Richard Burden, who campaigned for last year's race to be abandoned, said the situation will be even worse this time. Talks between the two sides got under way in February, but now they appear to have stalled.
Ecclestone said: "I spoke to the people that represent the protesters [last year]. I met them in London and Bahrain and had a chat. And I spoke to the people we deal with, and it was really difficult to decide who is right and who is wrong. When you talk to the people that represent the protesters, that person is a very sensible, down-to-earth person, and understands what I've just said, that both sides may be wrong.
"You are always going to get people who are going to try and take advantage of any situation. If you are going to do something you might as well do it when there is a lot of worldwide TV there.
"I have sympathy with both sides of the argument. I wish they could sort things out. If there are any problems, which there are obviously – people are not making trouble if there are no problems – then they could get it sorted out.
"Whether they have or not, I don't know, but you will always get people that will want to make riots anyway."
Asked whether F1 personnel would be safe in Bahrain this week, Ecclestone replied: "I don't think the people who are arguing about their position are bad people, and I don't think they're trying to hurt people to make their point.
"We've had all sorts of protesters – look at those complaining about Mrs. Thatcher. This happens all the time. People use these things when there is an opportunity."
He added: " The big problem is you have a set of people who want to have more of a say in the way there country is being run.
"It's probably like our country, England, there are sectors there who sees things the other side are doing wrong and they would like things done their way. It happens worldwide.
I said to them [protesters] if you are going to achieve what you are trying to achieve, which is having control of the country, you are better off having control when the country is strong and respected worldwide than capture something nobody wants.
"Who wants to capture Syria at the moment? It's not a big thing to have. It's a liability not an asset. It's the same with Bahrain. If they can get to grips with it, and get more control of a country that is strong, not a country that's weak." But there is no chance of the race being called off – not yet, at least. The Guardian