Bernie snubs his pal

DEAN MCNULTY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:44 AM ET

In various interviews over the years, Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone always noted that he could count on Canadian Grand Prix boss Normand Legault because they were "good friends."

In light of what happened in Paris on Tuesday when the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile erased the Montreal race from its 2009 calendar, imagine how Ecclestone must treat his enemies.

Legault -- no stranger to the back room politics of motor sports himself -- was in Paris on the very day his race was axed, presumably to announce that Circuit Gilles Villeneuve was going to get a facelift.

It would include a complete repaving of the 4.361 km road course on Ile Notre-Dame, putting an end to criticisms from F-1 drivers who had panned the world famous layout as in need of a major overhaul after the track surface at the hair pin corner came apart during qualifying this summer.

A similar complaint made by Ecclestone that Legault and his group needed to spruce up the facilities -- near where F-1 Euro trash celebutarts pranced and pouted for international cameras -- after the 2007 Canadian GP was met with a $5.5-million revamp of the paddock area and media centre.

So Legault had to be confident his word that the track surface would be fixed would be his bond so to speak. After all, Legault had a contract with Formula One Management -- Ecclestone's promotional and financial arm -- that gave Montreal the rights to the Canadian GP through 2010.

Turns out contracts with the diminutive Briton are like putting in an offer on a new house -- it's good only until some one else comes along with a better deal.

That folks, is exactly what happened to the Grand Prix in Montreal.

Legault and his Canadian GP executives should have seen it coming.

For most of the past decade, Ecclestone has been weeding out historic Grands Prix that don't fit his inflated image of the series and replacing them with races in countries where money flows out the end of an oil spout.

Just look at the United Arab Emirates city of Abu Dhabi -- that will get the race taken from Montreal. Construction of a $1-billion racing circuit is in its final stages, part of a $100-billion redevelopment complex that will include shopping centres, hotels and the world's most expensive marina.

It's the sort of ostentatious bastille that Ecclestone favours over sites like Circuit Gilles Villeneuve and Britain's historic Silverstone.

The fact that Abu Dhabi isn't much bigger than Oshawa and that the whole Emirate has less than 500,000 people isn't relevant in the brave new world of F-1.

All that matters is that those half a million citizens are worth $17 million a piece thanks to having about one-tenth of the world's crude oil supplies buried beneath their desert sands.

Abu Dhabi now will join Bahrain, Singapore, Malaysia, China -- and soon India -- as homes to Ecclestone's increasingly ugly travelling circus.

Just how F-1 came to be part of those country's sporting heritage is apparent. While the western world was shutting its borders to the spread of tobacco advertisements -- the life blood of F-1 for half a century -- nations in the near and far east were becoming the new best customers of cigarette manufacturers.

No pesky regulations there to keep the citizens from going directly from the corner smoke shop to the city cancer ward.

It is also no surprise that oligarchy is the form of government favoured in the vast majority of these nations.

Ecclestone knows for certain that anything he needs to make F-1 even more elitist will be granted by rulers in these lands.

And he remembers all too well the fight he had on his hands when he demanded the Canadian and Quebec governments hand over tax money equal to what his FOM would lose in tobacco advertisements when Canada had the audacity to outlaw them.

The agreement came over the protests of many but, coincidentally, runs out after next season.

Ecclestone had a choice -- fight to stay in North America where more Ferraris, BMWs and Mercedes are sold than any other place on the planet -- or take a boat load of cash from the ruling families in tiny Abu Dhabi.

There was probably no debate on the matter. Ecclestone, once again, has put his own well being over the well being of F-1.


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