FIA president Jean Todt has carefully avoided making public comment on the security and political situation around this year’s Bahrain Grand Prix, leaving most of the talking to Bernie Ecclestone. However today he broke his silence to speak to the BBC and said that, despite widespread protests and a security scare for Force India mechanics, there had been no compelling reason to call the race off.
There was, he said, “nothing (that) could allow us to stop the race. On rational facts, it was decided there was no reason to change our mind.”
An activist has been found dead in the garden of a private house in Manama today. The 37 year old, named as Salah Abbas Habib, was apparently dressed as a protester, with distinctive clothing and markings, had what appeared to be a gunshot wound in his side and an autopsy is taking place this afternoon. How he came to be shot and whether it had anything to do with Friday’s mass protest in Manama is not known.
Asked about the death, Todt said
“We know protests can have a negative result. We are a governing body running sport, you can have lots of protests and there can be consequences, and I am not sure the protests would not have happened if the Grand Prix would not have happened.”
There will be a long debate after this event about whether it should have happened, what damage it may have done to the image of the sport and to the FIA and also regarding what to do about the future; it’s very clear that the Sunni/Shia problem at the heart of the protests is not going to be solved before next year. So we will have to go through the whole thing again if and when Bahrain appears on the 2013 calendar.
Perhaps next year the opposition will be more organised, based on the learnings of this year’s race. Or conversely, perhaps their leadership will take the view that the Grand Prix taking place has actually given them enormous global media exposure for their plight, the like of which they could not possibly have achieved in any other way and so has been a ‘force for good’ in that respect for them. Certainly it appears to have done more for their cause than for the ruling regime, which has seen its country portrayed across the world as both violent and dysfunctional.
One obvious own goal has been the decision to allow the F1 brand to be used on the “UniF1ed” poster campaign for the race, a clear political use of the brand, which the FIA rules would appear not to allow and which contradicts all statements about sport and politics not mixing. As does the messaging of Bahrain being “back on track”. Asked about this by the BBC’s Jake Humphrey, Todt swerved the question,
“It can be a lot of interpretation,” he said. “I understand, in the UK, some opposition parties are against running the grand prix, if you take the comments of the actual prime minister he feels things are moving in the right direction.
“We as a governing body had no reasons not to have the grand prix happening in Bahrain. If we had a new vote today to the world council, I am convinced there is no new evidence that would make the decision (to hold it) different.”
Meanwhile AMG Mercedes boss Ross Brawn has called for a proper internal discussion between teams, rights holders and the FIA on the race and what happens going forward.
‘After this event we need to sit down and discuss it,” he said. “We are committed to this race, we are having a race, and after the race with proper judgement of what happened and what we saw, we need to come to a conclusion.”
Read the whole BBC interview with Jean Todt HERE