Companies shun Bahrain Grand Prix hospitality

LONDON, April 19 Thu Apr 19, 2012 4:02pm BST

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LONDON, April 19 (Reuters) - Western companies are opting not to entertain clients and partners at the Bahrain Grand Prix following calls for sponsors to boycott the event because of political turmoil.

Royal Dutch Shell, which sponsors the Ferrari racing team, will not be hosting any guests at the event, a source familiar with the company's plans said.

The Grand Prix was not held last year when an anti-government movement erupted in Bahrain following after uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, but in 2010 and other years, Shell had invited a "small number" of guests, the source added.

Shell declined comment on its hospitality plans but a spokesman said technicians would be there to support the Ferrari team "if the race goes ahead".

Safety fears grew on Thursday after members of the Force India team were caught up in a petrol bomb incident and police used teargas to disperse protesters.

Agencies which offer corporate hospitality were also seeing less business than they had in previous years.

"We're 80 percent down. We've got so few people going we've not even bothered to send out a representative to host them," Daniel Bois, director of London-based ticket agency F1 Corporate said.

He added that the risk of violence was one of the reasons potential clients appeared to be deterred.

A source close to the matter said that Swiss bank UBS would not be sponsoring any client events at the Bahrain race.

Corporate hospitality raises around $200 million in total during the 20-race season - about 10 percent of total revenues for Formula One, a business majority owned by private equity firm CVC Capital Partners.

Vodafone, which sponsors the Maclaren racing team, said it was not planning to invite guests to the Grand Prix, scheduled for April 20-22, adding it was not a race at which it had historically arranged significant entertainment as it does have an operating business in Bahrain.

In recent days, a group of British lawmakers sent a letter to Formula One sponsors warning them they risk damaging their brands by supporting the race.

"We are aware of the international concerns. We continue to monitor the situation very closely. However, whether or not the event should proceed is a matter for the teams and Formula One," said a Vodafone spokesman.

The International Automobile Federation (FIA) gave the green light last week that the event, cancelled last year amid a violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators, was on. (Additional reporting by Martin de Sa'Pinto in Zurich Editing by Maria Golovnina)