Bernie Ecclestone could be the greatest salesman of all time. It could be said that this is a man who could sell sand to the Arabs, but he’s even smarter than that; it seems he has managed to sell nothing to them.
The canceled 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix still brought in more than twenty million dollars to FOM’s coffers, despite the F1 Czar claiming he offered to return the money. According to Bernie they just told him to hang on to it, like you would do if your mate borrowed a t-shirt off you. The likelihood is that there is much more to this story than meets the eye, like so many other seemingly simple arrangements at the highest echelon of our sport.
Anything that comes from the Ringmaster’s mouth needs to be treated with a pinch of salt; in the same interview Ecclestone dropped this gem, “Greece are also trying to do a Formula One race. The Germans will lend them some money” which I can only believe to be a joke for fellow billionaires to chuckle over while swigging port on their artificial island. Were he a comedian Bernie would need to work a little on his material, but this is a telling insight into how seriously he takes talking to the press. The quote has been reported by respected sources, sites and papers with all the deadpan seriousness that Bernie no doubt delivered it in. I sometimes wonder if they shouldn’t get somebody with a sense of humour and a little current affairs nous to duel with him. Paxman verses Ecclestone, now there’s a thought…
I look forward to hearing Bahrain’s take on the story. Perhaps they’ll say it was just a little goodwill for causing Formula One a political headache earlier in the year? Maybe they were contractually bound to pay it? They certainly aren’t in a position to mock Bernie so I doubt they’ll deny the story if asked. The fact is that rich folk don’t get that way by giving away a penny, let alone a few million pounds, without getting something in return.
The cynic within me can’t help but think this payment could be a sweetener ahead of the mooted return to Bahrain in 2012, assuming Ecclestone wasn’t yanking our chain. In that case the question has to be whether Formula One needs to expose itself to criticism from the wider world for effectively being paid double to go back to a place that we now know to have a shocking disregard for humanitarian principles. Of course there are other stops on the Grand Prix world tour that wouldn’t stand up to close scrutiny of their government’s actions, though none have had their misdemeanours splashed around quite so publicly in recent times. Bernie also mentions Cancun in Mexico and Cape Town in South Africa as potential Grand Prix of the future, so why even bother with Bahrain when there are some tourist hotspots waiting in the wings? It’s not like the die-hard fans have missed Sakhir in 2011.
Although I look at motorsport through a rose-tinted visor there are many others who do not. Burning oil, spending tax dollars, involvement with court cases – there is enough ammo out there already without the Bahrain situation becoming any more debatable than it already is. I guess if FOM did genuinely offer to return the cash then they will take the view that their hands are clean, others may not see it the same way.