Ecclestone offers Bahrain more time

By Alan Baldwin

LONDON (Reuters) - Formula One is prepared to give Bahrain more time to decide whether the country's postponed grand prix can be held this year, commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone said on Thursday as a May 1 deadline approached.

"We need to wait a little bit to see exactly how progress is made," the 80-year-old told Reuters, adding that he might have to say "bye-bye Bahrain" but a decision was not imminent.

"I suppose we'd be safe by early June or something like that," he said.

Ecclestone said he and International Automobile Federation (FIA) president Jean Todt were assessing the situation.

The governing FIA said last month that it had asked Bahrain "to communicate by May 1st at the latest" whether it would be in a position to reschedule the race.

The grand prix at Sakhir was originally scheduled to be the season-opener on March 13 but was postponed after a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests in the Gulf kingdom that left at least 29 dead.

"Things can change in a couple of you don't know," said Ecclestone. "All of a sudden everything might be peaceful in a month's time and they are happy to run the event and so we are happy to be there."


In a move likely to increase sectarian tensions, a Bahrain military court sentenced four men to death on Thursday over the killing of two military policemen. Three other defendants were handed life sentences.

Bahrain's Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa has also had to decline an invitation to Britain's royal wedding on Friday due to the situation.

Teams have left it to Ecclestone and the FIA to make the decision, even if senior figures privately doubt there can be any hope of rescheduling.

"We're not involved in a political assessment of what is happening anywhere in the world," McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh told reporters at the Chinese Grand Prix this month.

"We are a race team...if the championship takes us there we'll go and race there. If it doesn't then we'll focus on the other remaining races of this year," added the Briton, whose team have Bahrain's holding company Mumtalakat as their biggest shareholder.

"I don't think we want the season extended but I think it's for others to see how it fits in."

Ecclestone said last month that the race could be slotted in toward the end of the season, which is due to end in Brazil on November 27 after the penultimate race in Abu Dhabi, should circumstances improve.

(Editing by Ed Osmond and Justin Palmer; To query or comment on this story email