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Ecclestone returns millions to Bahrain

Bernie Ecclestone returned a cheque worth tens of millions of pounds to the Royal Family of Bahrain Tuesday as the struggling nation faced up to the loss of its biggest showpiece sporting event.

The Formula One commercial rights-holder took the unprecedented step of waiving Bahrain’s rights fees in the wake of the civil unrest that forced the first Grand Prix of the new season to be abandoned late on Monday.

Ecclestone said it was an act of loyalty and good faith in a ruling family that had supported Formula One despite the problems containing the unrest that filled the streets of Manama, the capital, with protesters again Tuesday.

But it was also an act of generosity that flies in the face of Ecclestone’s reputation for driving the hardest of bargains. Ecclestone’s Formula One Management company and the teams stand to lose millions of pounds from the postponement of the Bahrain Grand Prix.

“Nobody gains from this,” Ecclestone said. “I want to be loyal to the King [of Bahrain], because he is doing everything he can to put things right with his people. He doesn’t need people like me stabbing him in the back.

“Right from the start, we talked about the problems there, and he was straight with me. I am not there and I do not know properly what problems they are having. But the King was concerned about Formula One and our safety, which is why he took the decision to call off the race.”

Ecclestone refused to say how big the commercial fee agreed with Bahrain had been, but dismissed speculation that it was as much as £37million. However, losing Bahrain will put a substantial dent in Formula One’s takings.

Ecclestone had committed to Bahrain by paying for tonnes of freight to be sent to the tiny Gulf state before the race, which was scheduled for March 13.

That has to be redirected to Australia, which will host the first race on March 27.

There is also the problem of when, or even whether, Bahrain could rejoin the calendar. Although Ecclestone has pledged to find a slot, that is going to be a hard task in a packed season.

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