• We’re happy to give them new contract, says Ecclestone
• Night race considered for next year’s 10th anniversary
Next year it may not be protesters burning tyres who light up the night sky – it could be the Formula One race itself. Bahrain’s Grand Prix chairman, Zayed Alzayani, is anxious to mark the race’s 10th anniversary at the Sakhir track and a night event is one of the options. Alzayani said: “We are looking at many options. A night race could be one of them, but it is not the only one. There are pros and cons to doing it.”
Sunday’s race went ahead against a background of violent clashes between pro-democracy demonstrators and police. But race organisers, encouraged by their success in keeping the trouble away from the track itself, are ambitious for the event and keen that the season should begin with a Bahrain race.
Bahrain was the opening race on the calendar in 2006 and again in 2010 – it has been in Melbourne since then. “We are ready,” Alzayani said. “We have been the first race before, we have been the third race before and the fourth race.
“But it is premature to say when the race will be [next year]. We will know probably between July and September or October. We would love to have the teams here for testing as well. But at the end of the day, that is a decision for them, not us.”
Bernie Ecclestone, in whose gift it is, has said he will consider the switch and is also willing to start negotiations to keep Bahrain* on the schedule until 2021. “I feel they do a super job and we’re more than happy to give them a contract for five years. I don’t see any problems,” he said. The current deal expires in 2016.
Alzayani added: “We’re committed to the sport. We were the first race in the Middle East – we call ourselves the home of motor sport in the Middle East. We truly believe that in every sense of those words, so we are here for the long term and we want to be known as the friendly race.”
All this will sound insensitive at best, provocative at worst to those concerned that Formula One is allowing itself to be used as a propaganda tool for Bahrain’s government. This is a country with a poor human-rights record and Monday’s local paper reported that talks between the government and opposition had stalled.
Another sign that the government’s confidence is high is the comment made by Sameera Rajab, the minister of state for information affairs, who said: “We will deal with media establishments that have clear intentions of harming Bahrain’s image. There are media establishments backing lies and spreading them in line with the hate campaign.” Rajab was responding to questions about the BBC’s coverage of policemen allegedly cracking down on peaceful demonstrations before Sunday’s race, and about the ITV crew who were deported despite having visas and accreditation.
Meanwhile, after the race, Lewis Hamilton said he does not think that Sebastian Vettel, the winner on Sunday and the championship leader by 10 points, is going to run away with the title, the way he did in 2011.
“Seb always seems to win here, so that was no real surprise for us,” he said. “I don’t think it will be the same for Seb in all races. Red Bull have struggled in some qualifying sessions.”
Hamilton found some late pace to finish fifth in Bahrain keeping alive his championship hopes. It is his battle with Vettel’s team-mate, Mark Webber, that he won and which he remembers most vividly.
“It was a good pure fight. I can’t remember fighting like that in a grand prix for a long time,” he said.
“From that start, to come away with fifth place, I feel great. Two thirds and two fifths – joining a new team, I thought it would be a lot worse than that.”