SBD/April 23, 2012/Events and Attractions

F1 Bahrain GP Goes Off With Minimal Incident; Ecclestone Promises Return Next Year

Bahrain Int'l Circuit claimed yesterday's race drew 28,000 paying customers inside circuit
F1 Management Chair Bernie Ecclestone “insisted Bahrain and the Middle East remain important for F1,” despite the “damning headline news" and anti-government protests that have resulted from the sport's presence in the country, according to the London TELEGRAPH. Ecclestone said the Middle East is "growing all the time, and other places are interested.” He added, “We will be back here next year, and for many years after, because they do a top-class job.” The Bahrain Int'l Circuit claimed yesterday's race drew “28,000 paying customers inside the circuit, a surprise given the main grandstand -- which appeared to be the one in use -- was only half-full” (London TELEGRAPH, 4/23). In London, David Tremayne notes it is “believed that the $36 million fee payable to CVC Capital Partners, whom Ecclestone represents, was placed in escrow and would become payable so long as the 2012 event went ahead.” This year's fee, under “the terms of a contract which always ramps up 10 per cent annually, is believed to be worth” $40M. Thus the “interested parties stood to lose $76M -- 50 per cent payable to CVC, 50 per cent to the teams -- if the race did not go ahead” (London INDEPENDENT, 4/23).

VIOLENCE NEVER REALIZED: The GUARDIAN’s Paul Weaver writes despite “real apprehension inside the track that this race would be subjected to violent disruption, it never came about.” Activists “did infiltrate the track, despite the vigilant security, with reports of the arrest of two women at the back of the grandstand.” There were “often more police and security personnel in view than spectators.” Race organizers claimed that “70,000 had come to the three days of racing,” but Weaver writes the number is “surely another gross exaggeration.” Now F1 and Bahrain “must start the recovery process from what has been a public relations disaster for both parties.” Yesterday’s race “might have been better than Ecclestone could have hoped for but the sport has shipped enormous collateral damage” (GUARDIAN, 4/23). In Toronto, Cathal Kelly writes the race was cancelled last year as “fear of seeming greedy trumped actually being greedy.” But Kelly writes, “In F1, greedy never loses twice.” The people at the Force India team “weren’t happy when someone blew up a homemade bomb near one of their shuttles,” and the team “decided to skip a day of practice.” Ecclestone “allegedly took his revenge for that loss of face by banning images of Force India cars on the official TV feed during qualifying.” Kelly: “If the goal of Bahrain’s ruling family was to launder their ugly international image under the cover of a car race, they failed. The car race only reminded everyone of that ugliness” (TORONTO STAR, 4/23).

TURNING A BLIND EYE: In London, Simon Barnes writes, “Every where you go in F1 you’re in the same place. The village is the same and the faces are the same; the smell is the same and the colours are the same.” He continues, “The whole point of F1 is that it is a world set apart, sealed off from real events. The naked combination of sport and commerce makes it unique, and it leads people in the sport, time and again, to the most extraordinary loss of perspective.” It is “hardly surprising, then, that F1 made the ridiculous decision to race in Bahrain yesterday.” There is “only one world, and it is one in which cars race each other in a tumultuous celebration of money and pollution” (LONDON TIMES, 4/23). In L.A., Jeffrey Fleishman writes Bahrain, like “most Arab Persian Gulf states, craves global legitimacy, even as it stands against the changes sweeping the region.” It is “enamored with the allure of multimillion-dollar race cars and accompanying Red Bull and Hugo Boss sponsorships, but rejects Western-style freedoms” (L.A. TIMES, 4/23).

FREEDOM OF THE PRESS? The GUARDIAN’s Josh Halliday reports a group of U.K. journalists “has been deported from Bahrain after they were arrested while covering” the race. The three journalists “were released from detention after nearly six hours and deported” to the U.K. late last night (GUARDIAN.com, 4/23).
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