Updated – After the messages of reassurance from Bahrain GP organisers this week and the show of the support from the F1 bosses and teams, events on the ground in the country this weekend have raised further questions about what might happen over the next three weeks as we count down to the scheduled race date of April 22nd.
Protests this weekend saw a fatality as local militia shot dead a man who, according to a Reuters report quoting the man’s cousin, was “taking pictures of a demonstration when what he described as “militia members” in an unmarked car opened fire on him.”
Protests are happening almost every day, according to reports, often ending in violence. On Sunday two small protests took place in Shia villages, specifically targetted at the Grand Prix, calling on the authorities to cancel the event.
More worryingly for the image of F1, on Saturday a protester throwing missiles at the police was seen to be wearing the iconic Prancing Horse logo of Ferrari on his back, showing the uncomfortable mix of sporting icons and political struggle, which gives fuel to those who argue that the sport has no business mixing itself with the politics of the country at a difficult time. Ecclestone told me this week that he has no problem with F1 being used by the country’s rulers to send out a message that the country is moving forwards, the race being positioned as “a force for good”,
“We’d be happy to do whatever,” he said. “I don’t see that we can help much but we’re there, we have confidence in Bahrain. The good thing about Bahrain is that it’s more democratic than most places. The people there are allowed to speak what they want and they can protest what they want to.”
Meanwhile it has also been emerged in the German media that the teams have a back up plan to get personnel and freight back to Europe from Shanghai via Dubai in the event that the situation escalates to such a degree that it is considered safer to call the race off at short notice. It is the belief of many within the F1 community that this will happen, at some point during the Chinese GP weekend. McLaren personnel are privately particularly concerned as the team is half owned by the investment arm of the Bahraini ruling family.
However that was far from the message from Ecclestone, the event’s organisers and the team principals who attended last week’s lunch at the RAC Club in London, making for a confusing picture just three weeks before personnel are due to arrive in Manama.