A group of politicians from the British House of Parliament, especially the House of Lords, has written an open letter to the Times newspaper today calling for the FIA to cancel the forthcoming Bahrain Grand Prix, scheduled for April 22nd.
Last year’s race had to be cancelled due to political uprisings in the country and attempts by the FIA and F1 commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone to reinstate the race later in the season were thwarted by the teams refusing to go.
The FIA’s rules state that if an event is called off within three months of taking place it cannot appear on the following year’s calendar and we are already passed that cut off point. The exception is a case of force majeure, but as the race has been on/off for 12 months it’s not easy to see how that might apply here.
At the same time there are other political winds which threaten the country, with escalating tension between Israel and Iran over the latter’s developing nuclear weapons capability. Middle East experts are now saying that a strike by Israel on Iran’s nuclear facilities is growing in likelihood and if that were to happen this Spring, Iran’s most likely first response would be to attack US military installations in Bahrain.
Whether the race happens or not will all come down to insurance. If the people and the cars, the TV companies and the F1 circus can be insured then the event is likely to take place.
At this stage the F1 teams are planning for it to be on and the personnel are still leaving it to the FIA to judge whether to hold the race or not. What will be decisive here, among other things, will be the UK Foreign office Travel Advice. If that were to switch to “Do not travel to Bahrain” then insurances would not be valid and the teams and others would decline to go.
There has been no official reaction so far today to the letter, but last month Bernie Ecclestone told an Austrian newspaper, “Everyone talks a lot about this part of the world, but Bahrain is the country in the region where there are the fewest problems,”
Before Christmas the FIA sent a delegation to visit Bahrain, with FIA president Jean Todt, Damon Hill and other officials checking out the situation. It is a very complex situation and a difficult one for the FIA to rule on as siding either way leads to controversy.
For the record the key points of the politicians’ letter today were:
“We note with concern the decision by Formula 1 to go ahead with the race in Bahrain scheduled for April.
“The continued political crisis in Bahrain is a troubling source of instability in the Gulf region, and the lack of any move towards political reconciliation concerns those who wish to see Bahrain move in the direction of greater democratic accountability.”
After explaining that they had hoped the outcome of the would have helped calm the situation, they said that in fact the opposite had happened.
“Two months on [from the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI)] we see an entrenchment of the positions of both sides which risks letting more extreme voices dictate the progress of the conflict. Given the current dire situation, with daily street protests and the deaths of more civilians, we do not believe that the time is right for Formula 1 to return to Bahrain.
“Bahrain is a major trading hub and financial centre in the Middle East but this brings greater responsibility. Human rights and economic stability go hand in hand and the government of Bahrain must do more to persuade international events and corporations that Bahrain is a stable place to do business.
“Until it takes concerted measures to reform the electoral, penal and judicial processes, international observers as well as ordinary Bahrainis can have little confidence that Bahrain is on the path to reform and political stability.
We urge the FIA to reconsider its decision to continue with the race.”