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Sport and world politics set to collide at start of season?
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Sport and world politics set to collide at start of season?
Posted By: James Allen  |  15 Feb 2011   |  3:13 pm GMT  |  104 comments

Like many people working in F1 I have a rather uneasy feeling about the opening Grand Prix at Bahrain, having witnessed the scenes in Tunisia and Egypt in recent weeks and hearing what some are saying about making the race a target for protest.

It’s not the event itself that we need to worry about, as that will be extremely well protected, it’s the comings and goings of the people who work in the sport, which is more tricky to protect. And of course, the drivers. Remember the coverage Jenson Button got when he and his entourage were held up at gun point by an armed gang in Brazil? They got away, but no coverage at all was given to the two groups of mechanics and technicians who were actually robbed by the gang.

Bahrain a target? (Darren Heath)


“For sure F1 is not going to be peaceful this time,” said Nabeel Rajab, vice-president of campaign group Bahrain Center for Human Rights. “They’ll be lots of journalists, a lot of people looking and [the government] will react in a stupid manner as they did today and yesterday. And that will be bloody, but will be more publicised.”

Of course it is the easiest thing in the world in a climate like the one we have at the moment, for a dissenting voice to say something about using the global platform of an F1 race to raise awareness of a protest against the government. It doesn’t mean they will follow through and even if they do, it doesn’t mean that it will affect the event. It is such a big thing for the Bahraini government that they will take extensive steps to contain trouble and the circuit is well out of town, in desert land, so is easy to ringfence.

The protests are not against the race, per se, they are against the government in Bahrain and there was a flashpoint in the last few days after police killed a man at the funeral of another who was killed in protests. I’m not an expert on the politics of the gulf region, but there is clearly a domino effect taking place and no-one knows how far it will go. There is no doubt that the region is changing fast. Popular feeling is the driver and the media and internet are the tools being used. TV stations like Al Jazeera give the people the chance to tell their own story and mobile phones and social network sites allow them to mobilise.

One of the things that struck me most forcibly on the day that President Mubarak finally stood down in Egypt was a soundbite interview I heard on Radio Four in the UK where a man said, “We are free, thank you Facebook!”

On another note, Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is under intense pressure now that a court date has been set for early April for him to face charges of paying for sex with an under-age prostitute and abuse of power. The prime minister’s behaviour brought the crowds – mostly women – out on the streets in Italy over the weekend to protest.

This seems a world away from F1, but it’s not. Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo has been an outspoken critic of Berlusconi’s but has also been unwilling to stand against him. If Berlusconi loses office, then Italy will be plunged into a vacuum with a new leader required. The options are pretty tired and boring. If the perfect storm of circumstances occurs, then it is conceivable that Montezemolo would offer to step forward to lead Italy out of the mire. Certainly he has been taking care of the positioning required, establishing his movement “Italia Futura” and making gestures like draping the new Ferrari F1 car in the Italian flag and calling it the F150th Italia – Ferrari being a potent symbol of how great Italy can be on a world stage.

If Montezemolo were to take himself off to do real politics, it would change the dynamic of the ongoing negotiations between the teams and the sport over the next Concorde Agreement. He is a powerful force on the teams’ side. Like the Grand Prix in Bahrain all of this seems trivial in the context of global political events – and it is.

But it’s a big deal for the sport. It’s starting to feel to me like this is the year when F1 and world politics collide.

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104 Comments
  1. Galapago555 says:

    RE: Opening dates in Spain for Senna film confirmed
    =========================================

    James, I know this is totally off topic, but anyway it’s an interesting news IMO, as I know that many of your followers are Spaniards as I am.

    I’ve got this tweet from Manish Pandey [@mpandey69], after asking him about the opening date for the Senna film in Spain:

    “Senna film in Spain May 20th with previews at Valencia film festival in April. @asifkapadia will be there!”

    I can add that Valencia Film Festival (“Mostra de Valencia”) will take place between April 7th and 14th.

    More info on VFF: http://bit.ly/aRwZaS

  2. Brown Eyed Girl says:

    Its an interesting angle you’ve chosen for this piece but I can’t help feeling that perhaps the focus is wrong in regards to the protests – if you’ll allow me to explain.

    If you look at what’s happened in Tunisia and Egypt tourists or foreign companies haven’t been touched. I think to compair it to what happened to JBs convoy is a mistake as its completely different and unrelated dynamic. These protests are about people who have had their rights abuse and ignored. Its about them standing up and saying I have a voice, I want to be heard and I want a government that reflect this that isn’t corrupt or represses it people with acts of torture. Its true some journalist have been hurt and one killed but that was due to the Egyptian regime spreading propaganda to try to control the protests. If you look to both countries they love and have pride in their countries. If you listen to the reports foreigners and journalists were welcomed with open arms and shown great hospitality from the democracy campaigners. They want people to come to their country because they understand that’s what will allow them to grown their economy in a new free and democratic society.

    What I think you’ve missed which is more important is that actually the race in Bahrain will be far more of a danger to the peaceful protesters. F1 is a global brand and will focus another spotlight on the country. The regime will not want to be shown up by pictures of people,often poor, protesting outside a multibillion dollar event with high value investors and companies visiting. Therefore, don’t be surprised if you don’t see any protesters when you get there in a few weeks. They will have been rounded up and imprisoned to prevent them embarrassing the country. There will be a huge crack down and they will do what ever they have to to prevent you from seeing it.

    1. James Allen says:

      My point abut JB was solely in terms of how widely reported it was, of course the dynamic is totally different

  3. alexbookoo says:

    While of course it’s important that all F1 people are safe in Bahrain, my bigger concern is how many activists and normal people asking for their rights will be arrested, detained, beaten up and possibly tortured just because F1 is coming to town and the government doesn’t want to be embarassed. F1 has a responsibility here. If the safety of F1 personnel means the suffering of others, it is unacceptable.

    Lets face it, it is revolting that Bernie Ecclesdtone takes money from these repressive rulers so they can boost their regimes’ prestige with an international sporting event. That becomes even more stark in countries where the population has very little interest in F1, like in Bahrain.

    In cricket there was an argument that boycotting matches against Zimbabwe would punish the people not the regime. That doesn’t apply to the Bahrain GP because most normal Bahrainis don’t care and probably can’t afford to go to the race anyway. And to those who say sport should never be political, this GP already is highly political as the whole purpose, from the Bahrain royal family’s point of view, is to bring prestige to a regime which yesterday fired rubber bullets and tear gas at unarmed youths.

    So if the Bahrain Revolution hasn’t succeeded by the time of the GP the race must be cancelled.

    1. alexbookoo says:

      Since writing this comment I’ve changed my opinion 180 degrees. If the protesters feel the media attention will help their cause, then let F1 go there. It’s a moral dilemma, because people will suffer repression just so F1 can race, but one of the problems at the moment for the protesters in Bahrain is that there is not much media there to capture what is going on, unlike Egypt. Protests thrive on exposure, so let it happen.

      Sorry for the inconsistency. My first reaction was written in haste before thinking it through.

  4. jacko says:

    Should never have gone there in the first place, europe is f1′s home.

    1. Emile says:

      Sorry, but not sure I agree with that. F1 was has been global for a very long time. From South Africa to Brazil, it has, for decades, been an international sport.

    2. Jo Torrent says:

      It’s the 1st time I qualify a comment as stupid and I already made hundreds of comments but that’s what I think.

      Formula 1 is global. I’m Tunisian and I love F1 and eventhough I would be glad for F1 to come to my country eventhough I know it’s impossible for economic reasons but F1 is global sport and it has to open up to other countries.

      Its heritage is European and it has to remain mainly in Europe I agree with you on that point but even in Europe interest in F1 isn’t great. Almost everything is based in the UK with the exception of Ferrari and Sauber. France for example is loosing interest in F1 and doing nothing to support a GrandPrix.

      Some might argue that F1 shouldn’t go to countries where Freedom and democracy aren’t guaranteed or aren’t present enough but I disagree with that too because a GrandPrix puts lights on a country with its successes and its issues and thus help those fighting for their freedom to be noticed outside and make them less likely to be tortured or/and killed. The restraint and the apology on TV by the Bahraini government is due in part to that international interest among the F1 community be it professional or fans.

    3. Richard says:

      Fully agree! Why have F1 races in a derert where there is no fan base?

      1. F1 Grid Slot says:

        Now the “no fan base” part I agree with. To me the races should be in countries where there are large numbers of fans – by no means limited to Europe, some of my favourite circuits on the F1 calendar are non-Euro circuits.

        I disagree with the complaints over the race being in the desert too – how is that any different to Magny Cour being out in the middle of nowhere surrounded by fields? And Silverstone – hardly in the heart of a bustling metropolis either is it!!

        When you only have 20 races on the calendar, the should be on the best circuits in countries where the largest numbers of fans are and the races should be accessible so that the average fan can afford a ticket – hmmm, that doesn’t sound much like F1 today though does it!!

  5. JJ MUPPET says:

    I like F1 alot, but it is amusing the self importance the sport show cases. It is simply something to do on a rainy day and not in any way a moral or important life factor such as polatics where very real decisions are made by politicians who do not deserve the office they have. It is the people who are victimised who are important and deserve a voice and rights. F1 needs to get over itself. Take the recent comments of VETTEL “I dream of Ferrari”. How selfish is that little man. I pity REDBULL his services and pray another wins the title in 2011.

    1. wayne says:

      I could not agree more about the Vettel comment, I too read of his ‘dreams’ and sighed behind a bemused smile. What a spoilt little boy he comes across as after RBR delivered him consecutively brilliant cars and presented him the with a title on a plate in 2010 that was really his to loose all year. I personally hope he goes to RBR next year and Alonso eats him for breakfast – and I am no Alonso fan!

    2. Rafael L says:

      I think any driver who denied dreaming of racing for Ferrari would be lying.

      Maybe with the exception of McLaren drivers?

      1. JJ MUPPET says:

        Dear Sir

        Dreaming is in private, I think if your boss supported you almost to the detriment of the team last year (front wing saga) and gave you the very best tools and a multi-million pound pay day, making all of your dreams come true, would you as a current part of his team thank him by mentioning another team? Redbull is about the X-TREME sports market and in that world the best skaters and bikers support each other openly in battle, I can confirm this comment will not go down well, as supporting your own is everything in the X-TREME world.

        A true champion has a moral responsibility to show decency and loyalty in my opinion.

        VETTEL has shown niether.

      2. Tim. says:

        They do also want to drive for Ferrari…

  6. Peter says:

    Great blog entry James, yet again displaying a wide eyed view of F1 that is unrivalled in the media.

    1. Henry says:

      I am sorry I have to disagree. Great blog entry? It shows how narrow minded the world of F1 can be. There is no mention of why the protesters are out in force, there is no room for any criticism of the government. in fact, the idea that the GP is so important to the government, perfectly highlights the true issue here: the GP is great for the government, and bernie, but maybe the people in Bahrain, who in theory elected that government, have a right to air their discontent. And the tone in which F1 journalists and fan around the internet have been talking about it, as an ‘inconvenience’ (not this site) and words to that effect, is absurd.

      The protesters are democratic protesters, trying to gain a voice on the global stage: they are not going to attack any teams or drivers; they are not theives.

      I think, as a final note to this rant, that since the Bahrain government and even monarchy have used the GP for a few years to promote their country and their agenda, that it is a great opportunity for the people who pay the taxes which fun the GP, to use it to gain attention for their cause.

      1. Olivier says:

        +1

        F1 should not happen at all costs. Human Rights come first! It is about time to screen the venues, regimes … and (team) sponsors of F1.

        I for one welcome the revolution that is taking place in the Middle East. It was about time! Whatever is going to happen at Bahrein: race or revolution. It is going to be exciting to watch! I wouldn’t be bothered at all if they “spoil” the race. First things first! They have my support.

      2. Phil Bishop says:

        “I am sorry I have to disagree. Great blog entry? It shows how narrow minded the world of F1 can be. There is no mention of why the protesters are out in force, there is no room for any criticism of the government£

        Why should James express a view, non expert by his own admission, about the reasons for protest or express criticism (or support) for the goverment? This site is an F1 site, not a world news site.
        This is a great blog entry as it touches on how world events may interact with F1.

      3. Jo Torrent says:

        I understand your point of view, nothing is more important than people chasing freedom. I disagree though because people in F1 have to know whether the GrandPrix will happen or not because they ran a business.
        Journalists aren’t politics experts generally and more so in matters concerning middle east. People who comment like you and myself can afford to say wrong and rubbish stuff and even hurt people. Nobody cares about our point of view and we’re not subjected to the ethics a journalist has to bare in mind. If he judges that he doesn’t have enough background or informations to deal with a subject he’d better let it to experts in other media.

        By the way, I wanted to highlight how humble is James by saying “I’m not an expert on the politics of the gulf region”. You also sense his humility in the way he covers F1 even though he’s a well established figure. I wanted to thank you for that quality James and stress that some known bloggers should take notice.

      4. mvi says:

        Henry.

        There is no personal income tax in Bahrain.

    2. Nika Wattinen says:

      I couldn’t agree more, Peter.

      When it comes to explaining the highly technical aspects of formula one, analysing developments, and then providing enlightened insight in to the inner workings of the sport, there’s nobody better.

  7. Rich C says:

    I wonder if Bernie has that ‘political stability’ insurance Lloyds used to sell? Might be smart!

  8. Ben G says:

    Lovely, a nice dose of politics to liven up the season. I was beginning to miss it post-Max…

    Good for Luca if he becomes Italian PM. He certainly looks and sounds the part.

    Bahrain wasn’t exactly next on my list of ‘arab states most likely to have a revolution’, but the opposition there has very cleverly latched onto the F1 race as a means of getting worldwide attention. I wonder if the Bahraini royal family were now wishing they hadn’t spent all that money in Bernie’s circus?

    I guess it may also affect the final F1 test. In which case, it’ll be an advantage to the teams who launched early.

    1. Jo Torrent says:

      As far as Luca is concerned I hate the way he uses Ferrari to his own political agenda. I’m not sure whether il Commendatore would’ve been happy with that. I already emphasized this point many times but what Luca does is bad for Ferrari because politicians attack Ferrari to get to him as they did at the end of last year and the fault is his.

      Every year, he adds more Green and White to the car. If he stays at Ferrari, in a few years the car won’t stay red. People in Italy love Ferrari without the need for him to put the flag everywhere. If he were that patriotic he should put Liuzzi instead of Massa. Afterall, Alonso is the barely unofficial #1. It doesn’t matter who’s besides.

    2. Henry says:

      The protesters have made it quite clear, as far as I am aware, that they are not in any way attempting to have a revolution, they support the government broadly, but want greater democratic rights. If the government did not deal with them in such a heavy handed way, killing two of them this last week they could have a fairly peaceful movement for gentle political reform. It is when repressive states get defensive that things go wrong.

  9. Quick Nick Rules says:

    Good article. Totally of topic but I can’t help but find it odd that Renault haven’t confirmed Quick Nick yet, with the barcelona test coming up. Some rumours today that Kubica would prefer Liuzzi to get the nod and that Renault are considering testing the italian and de la rosa next week at Barcelona – James can you shed any light on this?

    1. JJ MUPPET says:

      I too would like to know why Nick has not yet been confirmed as he seems the ideal candidate.

      Liuzzi? sounds like RK is (rightly) worried about his recouperation. Whether or not he should have been in a rally car, his career is still uncertain at this time. But RK has better drivers to worry about in the future than Hiedfeld as underated as he is, I am looking to see what Diresta does?

      1. Quick Nick Rules says:

        Spot on. I can’t help but think back to a year ago when the 2nd Renault seat alongside RK was up for grabs, there were a lot of rumours that the pole didnt fancy Nick Heidfeld getting the 2nd seat as he wanted the team to be moulded around him and thus needed a fairly weak driver in the other car.

        People talk about Quick Nick having had enough chances but he’s always made the most of every opportunity – beating every team-mate he’s had for a full season. If you ask me Liuzzi has had more than enough chances to prove himself in F1 and has failed to do so – he just seems to underwhelm every time – remember in early ’05 when it seemed a mere formality that he would blow Klien away during his 4 race spell between Imola – Nurburgring. Well he didn’t, and he didnt appear again that season. In 06 and 07 he crashed a lot when in good positions eg Canada, Nurburgring 07 and wasn’t much faster than scott speed, who was never really a top F1 driver. He looked distinctly average in the force india last year, canada and korea aside. Sutil blew his doors off.

    2. Rich C says:

      I doubt those rumors. Kubica’s preferences probably don’t weigh into it as he is most likely still heavily medicated and ‘out of it’. Much as I like them those other two are just not fast enough. Though James disagrees I’m still of the opinion that if they take anyone other than Heidfeld they are just giving up on this season.

  10. jonrob says:

    Don’t you think James that many people will feel that just by attending Bahrain that they are involuntarily placing themselves on the side of might and wealth. We Brits traditionally support the underdog and I am sure that consciences will be pricked, this particularly if the situation escalates.

    It is depressing that national/international journalism does not treat the robbing of the team members in Brazil, the same as the thwarted attempt made on the drivers. We see this reflected every day, as only sensation or alarm, real or invented, are the fodder for our popular press.

    If Luca does stand for PM Italia he surely MUST withdraw from all things F1. It would be grossly improper to use his position to influence negotiations with FOM and the FIA. I can already see Bernie suing (perhaps from his cell in Bavaria ;-) ) In any event being PM of Italia is a very complex and dangerous job (unless one tackles it like Berlusconi ie let’s just party!) Since as Berlusconi found out, unlike his business subordinates, politicians do not do their job properly nor do what they are told.

    It has always been my impression (Mainly from my business friends) that most of the Italian population takes no notice of the governments anyway, (as they come and go with remarkable rapidity) they just carry on as if the government were not there.

  11. AJIndy says:

    I can’t help thinking: The Godfather, Part II.

  12. Tony says:

    I wonder if Brands could get ready to substitute in time? They managed it years ago when the new Ring failed to be ready.

  13. Paul Mc says:

    If there is a genuine threat to the F1 community then they should cancel the race in my view. If not then they should go ahead with increased security.

    There will be lots of fans and normal F1 folk who wont have the luxury of personal security going to the race weekend. I hope that if it does go ahead that there wont be any trouble for those people.

  14. Daniel says:

    “I’m not an expert on the politics of the gulf region”

    You should, James, after all, F1 cars run on oil, and guess where are the biggest oil reserves in the world?

    (Oil sands in Canada are not oil)

    1. rdw says:

      F1 cars run on oil?

      I hate to break it to you but EVERYTHING runs on oil. There is no aspect of daily western life that isn’t totally and (at this stage at least) hopelessly dependent on oil. That laptop you’re reading this on? Almost entirely virgin oil plastic. That sandwich you’re eating? Comprised of more than 100ml of oil to allow you to have it with fresh ingredients ready to safely eat in your hand right now.

      I know it was a joke but you might want to cut James some slack.

    2. jonrob says:

      “(Oil sands in Canada are not oil)”

      No they are actually shale tar sands on which vast quantities of water and energy are squandered to obtain oil from the sands, making it the most expensive oil ever, only if the oil price continues to climb will it become viable. It has been helped recently by the verification of the long held view that the OPEC countries have been exaggerating their reserves by as much as twice the actual.

      The middle east uncertainty is a free lunch to speculators who push the price of oil up every day, supply and demand are only the starting blocks for the commodity traders, who ramp the price up on fear of shortage, then short it, making fortunes in both directions.

      1. Brent McMaster says:

        Jonrob the price of oil is high enough. There are 5 sites in operation right now and 42 in the approval process. As a Canadian I am ashamed that our government is going to allow the largest environmental disaster the world will ever see to take place in our country. There is a huge propaganda campaign, telling us how clean the process is, taking place right now in Canada and it’s intensifying.

        The problem is we, as a planet, are running out of oil; poor countries already have shortages and our western lifesyle won’t survive without it.

      2. Robert says:

        What would be the time frame for running out of oil? The USA has natural oil deposits that would last us another 300+ years. I wouldn’t say we’re running out of oil anytime soon.

        The Bahrain race should not be ran as it would hurt the oppresive government; throwing a spectacle to the world of how they had a international sporting event pulled because of the human rights abuses that take place on their soil.

        I would happily eat croissants and lox while sipping mimosas on a sunday morning while not watching the Bahrain GP.

      3. jonrob says:

        Interesting, we (in the UK) tend to think of Canada as a responsible country of common sense as a rule. My current impression is of that given in Steve Hamilton’s books and from “Ice road truckers” Presumably they are operating in the south Quebec field which is a difficult extraction I understand, requiring lots of steaming and polluted waste water. The Bakken field is supposed to be easier requiring less energy for extraction. I have to buy some more heating soon, it has dropped to 52.5pence/litre today but was up at 88p earlier in the year.

        The new formula for F1 engines in 2013 will give better fuel efficiency, but by then the electric car programs of the major motor manufactures will be to the fore. Though personally I think hydrogen ceramic fuel cells are the way forward, together with proper KERS.
        F1 could very easily turn to hydrogen fuelled reciprocating engines without too much drama.

      4. Brent McMaster says:

        Robert I don’t know where you came up with the USA having a 300 year supply, but there is no way. They can’t produce enough to supply their own needs now and they hit peak production in 1972 and it’s been dropping ever since.

    3. Michael T says:

      It is an F1 blog. If you want informed political opinion go to the appropriate sources for it. James was just being honest in hiw writing.

      1. James Allen says:

        And taking an overview

  15. Nigel says:

    1. Bernie E is just publicity building ahead of of March.
    2. The Telegraph article reads like he’s puffing up his own ego and importance.
    3. I suspect he’d like to get rid of the Bahrain race anyway because it’s a boring circuit and there are plenty of other cities around the world lining up for Grands Prix and lucrative deals for Bernie.

    1. jonrob says:

      Doesn’t Bernie own a slice of the Bahrain track?

  16. jmv says:

    Hopefully F1 will return to places that are more democratic, and where the happy people in the grandstands are also a reflection of society.

    Away with the charade! Was it not the Chinese GP where the authorities tried to fill empty grandstands? As for Bahrain F1 is used by the local elite show off of to the world some kind of equal and participatory society for all. Which it is not.

    Can one argue the same for Monaco? Maybe to a certain extent.. and maybe not (I need to give that one a bit more thought… :)

  17. MAS says:

    There are always complaints about attendance in middle eastern ‘Tilkedromes’ but now that there might actually be a crowd people still aren’t satisfied?

    In all seriousness, this kind of stuff can be expected when F1 chases the vanity-dollars of autocracies. A government that is accountable to it’s people has far more trouble meeting Bernie’s huge asking price so when you only go after the highest bidder this is what you can get. However, the democratic deficit is still no explanation for the boring races.

  18. Craigyj85 says:

    James,

    What is the stance with regards to the GP2 race in Bahrain this weekend?

    Are they taking the view that GP2 is not “big” enough an event to be targeted? Or is it on a knife-edge?

  19. AlexD says:

    “It’s starting to feel to me like this is the year when F1 and world politics collide.”

    Not only this James…this is the year when F1 and religion is going to collide. Beatification of the Pope requires miracles to be proved. Miraculous survival of Robert Kubica during the crash in 2007 is being used as a strong evidence that JPII is indeed saint.

    1. Andy C says:

      Well its more credible than Danny Bahars claims for the 5 new cars isnt ;-)

  20. Jo Torrent says:

    James,

    I already asked you about the events in Dubai and you removed my post. Anyway, I think that the people will make good use of the opportunity and it remains to be seen whether the GrandPrix can carry on.

    Both in Egypt and Tunisia manifestations were pacific and the police started violence even using snipers on roofs and mosques. As you mentioned Al Jazeera as the main free news channel in the arab world and Twitter and Facebook were the main informations tools to our disposal to follow the situation. The media controlled by the government is a joke with news in Tunisia ignoring the events, then treating protesters as terrorists, then as people manipulated by terrorists and finally recognizing that changes were necessary until the president flew the country. The most comic situation happened when the main protest occurred in the main avenue in Tunis. Most international media covered extensively the events. The national TV in Tunisia was airing a wildlife documentary. A Lion (some say with dictatorial methods) was harrasing his harem.

    People from citizens to union leaders to lawyers and even doctors in hospital called Al Jazeera in Qatar from Tunisia to inform their own people of the situation.
    People in protests used phones to take photos and videos and published them in popular Facebook groups to inform about the situation. Al Jazeera has a service gathering informations from facebook and airing them to the elder generations. That’s the way it worked for weeks in Tunisia.

    In Egypt, the government get the news and shut down internet for few days in an attempt to shut up protests. It didn’t work and that was it.

    Bahrain is a different story though as liberty is greater than in Egypt or Tunisia (nothing to do with Western standards though) and financial situation much much much better. The issue though is that a majority of Shiia population (70%) is ruled by a minority of Sunni and that has to change.

    For me the place to be for a GrandPrix in any arabic country (besides Tunisia my country) is Qatar. That country has everything : money (abyssal pockets), vision (probably the smartest arabic leader and by a huge margin) and stability unless Arabi Saudia plans to bother them. People won’t be asking for democracy there : they are happy with the leadership of their prince and they are simply too rich to complain.

    Will the GrandPrix happen, It’s impossible to answer. I hope that it will happen and that protest noise will cover engine noise (without violence though).

    P.S : thanks to Al Jazeera, FaceBook and Twitter.

    1. Ryan says:

      Thanks for the insight Jo

    2. Baghetti says:

      Although I don’t have the knowledge nor insight to judge whether or not all of the statements in this post are correct, I find it very refreshing in the sense that I was getting quite irritated by the paternalistic approach in all of the previous messages. I have been in both Bahrein and Qatar and I can definitely echo that the quality of live in both countries is definitely much much higher than the standard that we are used to in our so-called ‘Western Developped Countries’ (that is for local nationals, it doesn’t go for the immigrated Indian, Bangladeshi, etc workers). So the political issue at hand is indeed about a minority ruling over a vast majority, it has nothing to do with the reasons that were behind the Egypt events.

  21. Matt W says:

    Great, politics ruined the last decade of F1 so this is the last thing I want.

    Bernie has to shoulder some of the blame if things kick off. I have always felt it was disgraceful that he took GPs to countries where the Government basically pays F1 off to hold a race.

  22. Tim. says:

    The stage is to big and too tempting for the protesters not to show up ….the perfect storm .

  23. Mozelo says:

    Looks like even before the F1 Circus arrives in Bahrain, Mr. Nabeel Raja has already drawn the attention he was seeking to his cause.

  24. Stone the Crows says:

    Revolution has a way of spreading, especially when the revolution succeeds. Now we see uprising in Iran, and I fear there it will probably end.
    Montezemolo’s leaning toward the PM position has been as inevitable as the sunrise. He is a consumate polititian who is patient and determined to get what he wants.
    Politics and F1 colliding? Who was it that described Formula one as months of backstabbing and intrigue interrupted every two weeks by a race? It’s sometimes hard to tell if it reflects international politics or (as in Luca’s case) it is a primer for it.

    1. Tim. says:

      ……..nicely captured

  25. Chris R says:

    With all the money Bernie has brought into F1 from countries like Bahrain, we certainly will see the politics from the real world and F1, dancing in the moonlight like Berlusconi dancing with an underage girl.

    I’m assuming in the next few years we will be seeing the knock on effect of the world economy shrinking, in f1. The new tracks will i imagine struggle to foot Bernie’s huge bills.

    But this just leads to the concorde agreement, that the teams will become the actual assets, and that it will be a good time for Bernie to go as the money has pretty much been sucked dry.

    Or am i over-reacting? I know there is India to come, but how much longer can Bernie keep pumping in the money from countries? After the world economy shrinking, a middle eastern revolution must have been the last thing Bernie wanted.

    1. Well says:

      You forget Bernie isn’t spending a dime, the countries and sponsors are.

    2. rad_g says:

      Well, there’s also Austin and Sochi…

  26. Harvey Yates says:

    The concord agreement is the door to F1 and Luca has the key.

    As regards his possible effect on Italian politics, Montezemolo has a poor act to follow. He has enough charisma to take over Berlusconi’s role without much of a ripple, and probably a lot of popular support. The only question is: has he the desire?

    It has become accepted wisdom that he has been groomed as prime minister in waiting but one wonders, as the time of his challenge arrives, whether he’ll consider it not worth the effort. What’s in it for him?

    The really important question is how it will effect F1.

    With Todt chatting to Ferrari (who would have thought it?) and Bernie getting, shall we say, more irascible as the days go by, it would seem that the time of change for F1 is finally upon us.

    Max’s going was nothing, a two act play. But Bernie being challenged by Montezemolo: now that has to be along the lines of plate tectonics. Are we going to see a mountain range built or a rift?

    We may well regret Ferrari’s influence on our sport. Is the reason for Patrick Head’s sell-off concern for the value of his shares once battle lines are drawn?

    As for Bahrain, if the start of the season was put back a couple of weeks it will cause little problem in the short or medium term. F1 will hardly notice its going. The worry will be if it starts its own little domino effect. The new boys on the block have little in the way of foundations and it is possible that they might topple with just the slightest push.

    Whilst, on the positive side, there are some important people who will lose face so would be reluctant to pull the plug, they do have the ready-made out of the current world-wide recession.

    Will F1 suffer if there is a chain reaction? I think it depends on your definition of suffer. We might well have a few years of cramped pit areas, queues to leave the dusted down, and resurfaced, older circuits but the cars will still race. If you liked the old, insular and insulated, style of F1 then you might well think it an improvement.

    So much depends on Todt and his reaction to his two suitors: Bernie and whoever is representing Ferrari’s interest.

    Revolution is not good for anyone. It is a violent and invasive process. The softer (Egypt surprisingly so to me) Arab countries have changed with little in the way of damage to infrastructure and people. One must be concerned what might happen in the countries where those in power have more authority, or perhaps just the willingness to use it.

    It would be improper to compare what might happen in F1 to a whole country going through such civil trauma. However, one thing is similar. If there are two intransigent forces, neither willing to give way, then it will be those in the middle who will suffer.

    F1 needs its changes staged and progressive in form: evolution in fact.

    Despite initial concern as to Todt’s effect on F1, my anticipation being that the most we could hope for would be a minor improvement over his predecessor, I have been impressed by his performance so far, especially as far as politics is concerned. So there are some grounds for confidence. Mind you, many, including me, thought the same with Mosley and look how that turned out.

    So no real worries as far as F1 is concerned with the threat in Bahrain, unless you live or invest in the country of course. If a few more dominos tumble it might be different. As far as Luca is concerned, whether or not he becomes prime minister is of little importance. He’s more powerful than Berlusconi already. With both jobs he would have major influence over the direction of F1. Whether that is good or bad is open to argument.

  27. Ahmed says:

    A beautifully balanced article!
    Thanks

    A very proud Egyptian F1 fan :)

  28. Andy C says:

    I was interested to read Bernies comments. It came across as if the protests were an inconvenience.

    On another note I read a good article on track design. Mr tilke take note….Whatever next, a new f1 track with overtaking opps

    http://m.theglobeandmail.com/globe-drive/new-cars/motorsports/indycar-designer-has-the-formula-for-a-good-show/article1906190/?service=mobile

  29. azac21 says:

    It will be a great dissapointment if the GP does not go ahead. Then again, (local) people lives are more important. Either way Bahrain will be top news for the coming weeks.

  30. Nando says:

    Bahrain is one of the more liberalArab states. Perhaps too liberal for some extremists, doesn’t look like the peoples revolution we’re seeing elsewhere.

  31. Douglas says:

    Juicy article. Food for thought. Very different perspective on the usual F1 reporting.

  32. AlexD says:

    Alonso knew it long ago…when he said “F1 is not a sport anymore”:-)

    1. TheLegend says:

      He said the same 3 days ago for an interview. He said exactly that:
      “F1 is too much buissness to be a sport, and too much sport to be a buissness.”
      He always seems to know something the other don’t…

  33. Hey James,

    I hope it will go off without any people getting hurt. But I also hope that the people of Bahrein get wat they want and deserve.

    Regarding the Facebook comment, everybody is talking about social media and Facebook etc. But if you look at the numbers, internet connections or Facebook accounts are relatively low in those countries and then usually it’s the people who have it pretty good and are more likely to want the situation to stay as it is. I think the pictures Al Jazeera shows have a much much larger impact than Facebook or social media like Twitter have. It does help us to get information about the situation, but watching Al Jazeera is even better….

  34. Declan says:

    This post evokes a similar emotion to the earlier post on Williams embracing Chavez’s sponsorship. I think you’re spot on in detecting a sense of ‘people’s uprising’ in the world today. And I think that a lot of it has to do with governments simply failing at their only objective which is to serve their people and putting other interests (themselves included) ahead of that mandate.

    Personally – I think sport and politics should not mix. But Bernie has made his bed of encouraging public money to be a back stop for race contracts and therefore means that for that weekend, F1 is a political pawn for that country to promote its [choose as appropriate - regime, tourism, nationalistic propaganda].

    Maybe F1 needs to grow a moral spine and not just chase after the bucks – conveniently ignoring where the money comes from.

    Perhaps the voices around the world are also saying that politics needs a bit of a shakeup similar to what F1 went through. With the old guard (Ron Dennis, Flavio Briatore, Jean Todt, Max Mosley) out of the way, the new establishment have refreshingly improved the shape of modern F1.

  35. Mark J says:

    I just recently moved to Italy for work and during my first dinner discussion two weeks ago it was about politics and Berlusconi (surprise, surprise!). So I asked the people at the table about Montezemolo and they were all of the opinion that while he is obviously making big moves to try and become prime minister through much talk and using Ferrari as an advertising platform. There are others with a better chance and stronger popularity here.

    This of course is just an opinion from them but may prove an insight into some of the local outlook at the moment. Which means Montezemolo could be pushing F1 causes for the teams a little longer.

    More and more with government involvement in getting races organised paid for and now sponsoring. This scenario was always inevitable with Global politics effecting F1.

  36. Adam Taylor says:

    James, Im aware that the first race in Bahrain is within touching distance (to which I am physically vibrating with excitement) but what of the testing session that takes place before that. That is obviously of far less importance, is there any news of this changing at all?

  37. Jonathan says:

    James, as you say, the event will have excellent security.

    The real question here is whether F1 should be totally apolitical in its choice of venues.

    When F1 visits countries with poor human rights records and cosies up to their leaders, it’s a sign of approval for the regime.

    1. Grabyrdy says:

      Well, sort of, in the sense that it’s only countries like that who can decide to spend huge sums bigging themselves up in the eyes of the world when we all know it’s all pretty shabby underneath, and there’s been no accountability or democratic input into that spending. Which is what makes the GP an ideal symbol to draw attention to that lack of accountability. As capacity to pay the ridiculous fees is more or less the only criterion of choice for races these days, F1 is bound to get itself into this sort of trouble whenever the winds of change start gusting through those countries.

      I thought James trod the line of impartiality pretty well – this is after all a F1 website, not a political one. But there’s going to be some pretty uncomfortable people in the teams in Bahrain if there’s any sign of heavy-handedness from the government there. Everyone knows it’s only sport, after all.

  38. Phil says:

    Could all be about to get a whole lot worse as well. New investigation launged by CVC and Co into kickback payments intended to devalue shares in F1 when it was sold to CVC.

    Makes me wonder if CVC want out and in the process turned up some potentially damaging corruption that needs addressing before they can flog F1, albeit possibly on the back of the those kickbacks taken by their jailed former board member, Gerard Gribywotshisface ;-) Wonder how many characters involved int he runnign of F1 might be implicated?

    I love F1 but this could get messy; amazing what happens when people get greedy: http://www.pitpass.com/fes_php/pitpass_news_item.php?fes_art_id=42961

  39. Born 1950 says:

    Seems to me that F1 has to remain independent of politics — but that’s not the same as saying it should ignore politics. It’s important to choose locations for GPs where the arrival of F1 cannot be seen as an endorsement or support for corrupt or undemocratic governments. F1 does not, and should not, operate in a bubble.

  40. Ross says:

    Lets say if it becomes impossible for there to be a race in bahrsin. Would there be only 19 races this year or do the FIA have a track on stand by incase of emergencies such as this. F1 does not need fans at the track (just look at Turkey) or is there to many behind the scenes things to work out to change the venue at short notice.

  41. Ed says:

    Who decides whether the tests or the race is postponed – the FIA or Bernie?

    1. Fergal says:

      I guess in this kind of instance, both – the race can’t go ahead if the FIA pull out their staff, and if bernie says it’s not going to happen, the FIA can’t exactly run it without him…

    2. Tim. says:

      We are about to find out!

  42. Geoff Rogers says:

    Great article James.

  43. The problem with these news tracks and lack of spectators has more to do with the absense of local drivers on the grid. Once Lewis appeared on the scene, Silverstone was sold out almost immediately. The same with Alonso in Spain – I reckon 90% of spectators in Barcelona and Valencia come just to chant “Aloooonso-Alooonso!” and wave a flag. Schumi-mania in Germany is more or less the same. Once Prost quit, F1 lost ground in France. I think drivers attract more followers than teams in general.

    We obviously don’t have any security issues in Europe but F1 is a global sport, they just gotta make sure it’s safe to go to new countries. Hopefully, the sport will grow there and some modifications to the new tracks in order to encourage overtaking would also be welcome.

  44. Brent McMaster says:

    F1 would never have existed without democratic governments in the founding countries. The rights of people, that democracy brings, should be more important to F1 than any race.

  45. For Sure says:

    Hi James,

    I think all of my previous comments are not approved. I strongly think there was no offensive statement.
    I was merely pointing out the fact that it is irrelevant for you to discuss politics here and I was defending your position so I don’t understand what happened. Please advise.

  46. Nick Rowland says:

    My parents live in Bahrain and my brother is currently visiting so I am a little concerned myself at the moment. I am also meant to be going out for the F1. I really hope I am able to. Apparently Friday has been announced as a day of RAGE but I don’t exactly know what this means. They live 10mins away from what’s happening but it seems to have settled just lately. They have restricted the Internet so people cannot get online at the moment either. But that may just apply to some websites eventually.

  47. VicWeir says:

    “It’s starting to feel to me like this is the year when F1 and world politics collide.”

    I think there’s a very good chance of this happening – and I wouldn’t be surprised if rumblngs of conscience- driven dissent didn’t start to show themselves in some interesting places within F1 itself.

  48. Jon Guite says:

    October 19, 1985 at the Kyalami Circuit in South Africa. The race was marked with some teams boycotting the event due to apartheid — the segregation of blacks and whites — and was the last South African Formula One race until apartheid ended in 1992.

    Bernie has one motivation MONEY! Any kin of local fan base in not part of the equation. The teams would have to take a stand & in turn receive punitive punsihment.

  49. Tim. says:

    “Bernie has one motivation MONEY! Any kin of local fan base in not part of the equation. The teams would have to take a stand & in turn receive punitive punishment.”

    100% accurate

  50. Brent McMaster says:

    Webmaster, I would like to reply to Robert’s comment on my earlier post but there is no reply box. Can we not reply to a reply?

  51. VicWeir says:

    The news this morning on the BBC of deaths of protestors in Pearl Square in Bahrain can only add to the sense, James that ‘world politics and F1 might collide’ before the racing year even starts!

  52. jonrob says:

    It go a lot worse in Bahrain overnight (probably because the chants changed to a request for the King and his family to step down, originally it was just the prime minister) with an attack by the “security forces” on the mostly sleeping crowd camped at the Pearl roundabout. I wont go into the sordid details but its here:
    http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2011/02/201121714223324820.html

    Now I just guess that much of the F1 world (those with a conscience,) will not want to race behind a wall of armed guards, particularly when popular opinion is in support of those being held back. So I would not be at all surprised now if we saw statements starting to come from teams about their reluctance to appear to be supporting the oppressors.
    Bernie has to cancel or risk the outrage of the civilised world.

    Pity because I cant wait for the first race, but an extra test session could be scheduled instead. (somewhere quieter)

  53. Ben says:

    Just heard that the Bahrain regime have used live ammunition on protesters – the British + US govs should make it clear that this is unacceptable and F1 should seriously consider its presence in the country/region

    1. Olivier says:

      I won’t be watching the Bahrein GP. The “prince” of Bahrein should get his priorities right. F1 is great, but people come first. I’ll tune in from Malaysia onwards …

      1. Olivier says:

        Oh, Melbourne that is (and not Malaysia).

  54. kowalsky says:

    they must be thinking. Do we want to be associated with this regime? The world is changing, and they should act accordingly. I remember when they stopped going to south africa because of the apartheid. And i am sure they are thinking about it.

  55. Andy C says:

    I read a very “interesting” article on the NY Times website. It adds an insight by someone who is in the country, and has observed what has been going on.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/18/opinion/18kristof.html?src=twrhp

    The last paragraph sums up my thoughts exactly.

    There is no way that F1 should race in Bahrain this year. I rarely get embroiled in political discussions on this forum, but reading that article makes my blood boil.

    1. Jess says:

      I don’t know, it’s the NY times after all.

      1. Andy C says:

        Not sure what you mean Jess?

        The guy who wrote it hardly lacks credibility does he? Hes a two times pulliter prize winner.

  56. gilawrence says:

    Does the world of F1 really want to be associated with a regime that publicly kills it’s own people? The Bahrain GP should be cancelled.

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Cancel-Bahrain-F1-Grand-Prix-2011/189871767712839

  57. Peter de Brito says:

    James,
    If the Grand Prix in Bahrain is cancelled, what is the likelyhood of another Grand Prix venue being selected to host the event?

    There are a few venues waiting in line – could a decision be made in time, to allow other circuits and venues to show their worth?

    1. James Allen says:

      I don’t think that’s what’s being considered.

      1. Nika Wattinen says:

        What would it take to do the old switcheroo with Abu Dhabi? Logistically speaking, of course…

  58. Bec says:

    People seem to forget that McLaren are substantially owned by the Bahrain government, so if people really don’t have selective morals then why aren’t they calling for a boycott of McLaren as well as the Bahrain GP, and asking questions of Lewis and Jenson as to why they’re driving for a team that some people say is substantially owned by an ‘oppressive regime’.

    Or is that a question too far for the fan boys?

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