Next week’s Bahrain Grand Prix will go ahead unless local officials decide otherwise, Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone said on Thursday.
“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only people that can do anything about it is the national sporting authority in the country that can ask for it to be withdrawn from the calendar,” he told Reuters at the Chinese Grand Prix.
“Unless it gets withdrawn by the national sporting authority in the country, then we’ll be there.”
Local organizers, who had to cancel last year’s race at Sakhir due to civil unrest, have been adamant that this year’s event is safe to go ahead despite continuing sectarian divisions and street violence in the kingdom as well as threats targeting the grand prix.
They have denounced “scaremongering” and “huge misconceptions” about the situation.
John Yates, the former assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police who has been hired to oversee reform of Bahrain’s police has also said he felt safer in the Gulf kingdom than he often did in London.
Ecclestone, 81, played down reports that he would be discussing the situation with teams and governing International Automobile Federation (FIA) in Shanghai amid pressure on the sport to cancel from rights activists.
He added that any discussions in China would not change anything in any case and advised against cancelling bookings.
“No, I’m meeting the teams on unrelated matters. I’m not meeting them about Bahrain or Barcelona or Monaco or anywhere,” he declared.
One unnamed team principal was quoted in Britain’s Guardian newspaper this week as saying all the teams hoped the FIA would call off the race but Ecclestone said none of them had expressed any concerns to him.
“Not at all,” he said. “I think Sebastian Vettel made a statement that he’s happy to be there.”
Red Bull’s double world champion told Reuters on Wednesday that he was ready to race in Bahrain if the powers that be felt it was safe to do so.
Ecclestone was surrounded by a crowd of television crews and photographers after arriving at the Shanghai circuit and, standing in the doorway of his office, answered repeated questions about safety.
A former team owner, he batted away a question about how he might have acted in that capacity and repeated his view that Formula One had no business telling others how to run their countries.
“We enter a country in the normal way, we don’t deal with the religion or the politics,” he said in response to a question about human rights abuses.
“I shall be there for sure. And you’ll be there?” he enquired of Reuters with a smile. “I hope everybody is there. We shouldn’t be getting involved with other people’s politics.”
The billionaire said he had been told by others that the country was safe and played down concerns for the safety of personnel and media.
“I don’t think the people in Bahrain have got anything against Formula One team people or journalists,” he said.
“Apparently people are there carrying out their business as normal, I’m told. 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.”