The FIA World Motor Sport council today decided unanimously to reinstate the Bahrain Grand Prix, after postponing it earlier this year due to civil unrest.
It remains to be seen whether the event will provide a rallying point for further unrest. The risk is that it will and Bloomberg is quoting protest groups suggesting that they will take the opportunity of a global media audience to protest,
“On the one hand, Formula One isn’t respecting human rights, but on the other, it’s a good chance for the people to express how they feel on television worldwide,” Mohamed Al- Maskati, head of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, told Bloomberg.
Inevitably the race will be the subject of very high level security, with a ring of steel around the circuit easy enough to arrange. But while the teams and drivers will also be heavily protected, what of the media and other workers who stay in small, affordable downtown hotels? It will be very hard to protect them.
The FIA is confident of its decision; following the lifting of the state of emergency in time for the WMSC meeting, it conducted a fact finding mission to Bahrain in recent days and its team concluded that it was both safe and desirable for the Grand Prix to take place this year on October 30th, in a spirit of “reconciliation” after the troubles of the Arab Spring uprisings. But is the country ready for reconciliation or is there just a temporary suspension in the process of change?
The FIA also announced next year’s calendar with Bahrain as the first race on 11 March. So there will be not one but two occasions in five months where the eyes of the world will be on Bahrain.
The teams’ reaction to the decision remains to be seen. They were certainly making noises at the Monaco Grand Prix weekend that hosting the race this year – which also pushes the Indian Grand Prix back to the second week of December – would be very hard to do both logistically and morally.
Ferrari boss Stefano Domenicali said that it would be better to make decisions based on the long term future of the race, rather than try to reschedule the race this year. The teams are discussing the decision this afternoon and it will fascinating to see whether they take a stand, and to what extent they stick together on this issue.
Yesterday the 1996 world champion Damon Hill had urged the sport not to hold the race this year, but the official announcement was made by the FIA mid afternoon, following a series of Tweets from Bahraini officials earlier in the day.
“This decision reflects the spirit of reconciliation in Bahrain, which is evident from the strong support the race receives from the Government and all major parties in Bahrain, including the largest opposition group, all of whom endorse the Formula One Grand Prix and motor sport in the country,” said the FIA statement. “The WMSC feels that reinstating the Grand Prix is a means of helping to unite people as the country looks to move forward, and also recognises the commitment made by the Formula One teams, their employees and families, and personnel associated with the Championship including the local team of volunteers who are so vital to the event.”
The Bahraini government – which is a major shareholder of the McLaren team – has offered dialogue on reforms without setting any parametres for the talks, but today it has made much of the support of the main opposition party in the hosting of the race. But the next couple of days will show the feeling on the streets.