By Alan Baldwin
MANAMA (Reuters) - The Force India Formula One team vanished from television screens for the second day in a row at the Bahrain Grand Prix on Saturday, triggering speculation that they had been punished for pulling out of Friday practice.
The team, run by deputy principal Bob Fernley in the absence of flamboyant Indian aviation and drinks entrepreneur Vijay Mallya, took part in Saturday's final practice and qualifying but their cars were strangely absent from any of the global television feed.
One team source suggested that the reasons were clear enough, and there was plenty of chatter on social network Twitter, but Ecclestone denied Force India had been targeted for treatment.
"Not at all," the billionaire Briton told Reuters after qualifying. "I asked them (the television people) to go and have a look. They missed two other people. It was simple.
Ecclestone had made his irritation with Force India's actions evident on Friday as the violent clashes between police and pro-democracy protesters elsewhere on the island dominated the news agenda.
"Maybe people are targeting them (the team) for some reason. I don't know," Ecclestone had said after meeting Fernley.
"None of the other teams seem to have a problem. So maybe they've had a message that they are being targeted for something. Maybe nothing to do with being in this country, maybe it's something else."
The economically significant race has attracted worldwide condemnation and calls from human rights campaigners and anti-government activists for it to be cancelled, while many other Bahrainis have been supportive of it.
Twitter was abuzz with jokes and comments about Force India's new-found cloak of invisibility, with one post suggesting they might have hired a new engineer by the name of Harry Potter.
"For those asking, we have no control over who is being shown on the world feed, sorry you didn't get to see any of (Paul) Di Resta's lap," Sky Sports F1 channel (@skysportsf1) said on their Twitter feed after the second phase of qualifying where Di Resta was fifth fastest.
Di Resta will start 10th on the grid, with German team mate Nico Hulkenberg 13th.
"I've seen some stuff on Twitter, but I was sat in the garage or sat in my car driving so I saw my car," commented Di Resta.
Most of Force India's sponsors are companies within Mallya's business empire.
(Editing by Clare Fallon)