Mar.15 (GMM) McLaren has reportedly played down reports title sponsor Vodafone is pulling out of Formula One due to the controversial Bahrain Grand Prix.
A day after the British team confirmed that its title sponsor since 2007 will pull out at the end of the year, The Times newspaper said Vodafone made its decision "after conducting a review of the deal on the back of last year's Bahrain Grand Prix".
Bahrain, also a McLaren co-owner through the state-owned Mumtalakat Holding Company, has been a controversial race on the F1 calendar in the wake of the Kingdom's reaction to the Arab Spring uprising.
Vodafone's chief commercial officer Morten Lundal insists the decision to quit is simply because the brand has "less need for this kind of exposure in future".
But The Times claims Vodafone "has been reconsidering its involvement with Formula One" since Grands Prix have been going ahead "despite a violent uprising in (Bahrain) in which thousands of anti-government protesters confronted police".
The report continued: "Corporate sponsors such as Vodafone pulled their hospitality plans but could do little to press for the removal of their branding from the cars because of the structure of sponsorship deals.
Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim's Telmex company is the favourite to replace Vodafone at McLaren next year, but The Times said new F1 sponsors Rolex and Emirates are also in the running.
"It's not cut and dried," said a team source.