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Uneasy sense of calm as F1 settles down to business in Bahrain
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Jasim Husain
Posted By: James Allen  |  19 Apr 2012   |  4:08 pm GMT  |  129 comments

The F1 paddock went about its everyday business today, media briefings, team managers’ meetings, all gearing up for Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton says that he’s a better man in 2012 for his difficult years, Sebastian Vettel says that he’s going to use the new specification Red Bull exhausts, Michael Schumacher says that Mercedes’ challenge is to hit the sweet spot on the race tyres, like they did in China.

The Grand Prix is moving up into gear. Everywhere there are banners proclaiming that Bahrain is “UniF1ied”, while the slogan “back on track” is also evident. It’s quite surprising the extent to which the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone have allowed the government to use the F1 brand in its political messaging about the country moving forward.

The road to the circuit is lined with chequered flags interlinked with Bahraini flags. A former leader of the opposition Al Wefaq opposition party, Jasim Husain, was paraded around the paddock this morning (see photo above), giving the event the thumbs up, but outside in the real world, the anti F1 rhetoric from the current opposition and from human rights campaigners is unequivocal.

Inside the paddock there is an edge in the air, a sense of uneasy calm, for the moment. Pre-race uncertainty and anxiety about what kind of situation the hard working professionals of this sport would be walking into this weekend, found a focus with an incident involving four Force India technicians and mechanics, who stumbled into a frightening incident on Wednesday night as they drove back into town at 8pm along the highway.

A temporary road block had been thrown up by activists and in the melee as the traffic slowed, a Molotov cocktail was thrown, which landed a few metres from their car. There was no sense that they were targeted, nor that the perpetrators had any idea that there were F1 people in the traffic jam, but it is the kind of spontaneous and random act of violence which is hard to anticipate or prevent, which no-one wants to get caught in. Two members of the team, one of whom was not even in the car, have been allowed to travel back to the UK.

Comparisons are often made with the road out of the circuit in Sao Paolo, where gun toting gangs used to occasionally terrorise F1 personnel in their cars until the police cleaned up the slum area for last year’s race. Such an incident happened to Jenson Button and his entourage two years ago, as well as to several mechanics. Sao Paolo is a place where it is easy to get mugged on the street, you have to take care, but this is different as one doesn’t feel targeted in that sense. However there is a feeling of volatility, a fear of getting caught up in someone else’s violent protest. The police, after all, cannot be everywhere all the time.

“My wife happened to be travelling on that road at the same time (as the Force India incident) and she sent me a picture of it,” said Zayed al Zayani, the manager of the Bahrain International Circuit. “It was an unfortunate incident and hopefully it won’t happen again.

“We are ‘back on track’ in the sense that the cars are racing on our track. Some people have interpreted that we are saying that the country is back on track. I don’t think so and I’ve made it clear that politically there is a long way to go to get the stability we had before. But that’s not our job, that’s left to the government; we run a social and sports event.”

Former Metropolitan police chief John Yates, now consulting for the Bahraini police, was not exactly reassuring in his assessment of the situation, “There will be protests over the weekend,” he said. “But we want to make this a sporting event not a security event. I judge it more likely there will be protests on the route and protests around the villages. I just hope it’s a good event and I hope it goes off without too much trouble.”

The security on arrival at the track today was surprisingly sparse, a couple of men in yellow, shirts, no military, no guns. That is sure to change as the weekend goes on. There is so sign on the roads and in the city of any problems, but they can spring up from nowhere. Everyone will breathe a sigh of relief on Sunday night if they can get out of here without a major incident.

The drivers aren’t keen to get drawn into discussions about the political side. Some rather naively say that the racing is ‘more important’, others just say that they are ‘here because it’s on’ and leave it at that.

Paul Di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg shared their team’s anxiety over the incident on the road last night, Hulkenberg questioning why they should be put in this position,

“It is obviously not right that that sort of stuff happens,” he said. “We are here to race. The F1 business is about entertainment, and these sort of things should not really be happening to us.

“Whether it is right or not I don’t really know. It’s difficult to say. I am not a politician, I am a Formula 1 driver, but it should not really be happening should it? It is not good that we have to worry about it.”

The condition of the hunger striker Abdulhadi al-Khawaja could also have a bearing on the events this weekend.

Once the cars start running on Friday a greater sense of normality should descend on the weekend, but it will only take one serious incident for everyone who works in F1 to feel very differently about being here.

The sport is holding its breath.

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129 Comments
  1. ¨for sure¨ says:

    Hulkenberg’s comment displays a shocking naivety, and a total misunderstanding of what is happening in Bahrain. He is being used as a political pawn, yet clearly doesn’t get it.

    1. Steve W says:

      I don’t think it is fair criticise Hulkenberg for what he has said. He is right to say that he is a racing driver there to race, and shouldn’t be expected to be drawn into political debates, or have to worry about being caught up in other people’s protests.

      Like with the England cricket team’s trip to Zimbabwe a few years ago, sportsman should not be being dragged into this. It’s the powers that be at the top of the sport that are wholly responsible for making the right decision, and it appears they have totally mismanaged this whole affair.

      Bernie Ecclestone is the one who has shown a total naivety. Yet again he has allowed money to dictate decisions. Its laughable to think how must criticism he directed at Silverstone over several years, even threatening to leave it off the calendar, yet has seemingly turned a blind eye to much more serious matters in Bahrain. Formula 1 is being used in a political power game, and it doesn’t appear Bernie realises this, perhaps he’s not as clever as people give him credit.

      1. McHare says:

        Just about every major city has violence and crime at its core. Who would go to the Olympics later this year knowing that riots could erupt at a moments notice? Its always going to be dangerous in places like Brazil as James says so as Bernie has quite correctly done in my opinion, you just get on with it and rely on the police and security professionals to do their job. There will always be an element of danger to life itself. We are far from perfect in Europe and the US remember!

    2. Racyboy says:

      Hulkenberg’s comments hit the nail on the head…

      “The F1 business is about entertainment, and these sort of things should not really be happening to us.”

      “I am a Formula 1 driver, but it should not really be happening should it? It is not good that we have to worry about it.”

    3. newton says:

      Yes, don’t be too harsh on him. He’s a young man who has spent a devoted a huge proportion of his life to motor racing. I wouldn’t expect him (or the younger drivers in general) to have any real grasp of such a complex political situation in a foreign country.

    4. [MISTER] says:

      Whoot?!?
      He’s not naive, he’s just honest about the situation there and about his feelings.

      You’re the naive one if you think that Bahrain is safe and that those who have nothing to do with Bahrain’s political problems are not affected by this.

    5. Dan Orsino says:

      WHY SHOULD Hulkenburg understand Bahrain?
      He’s a F1 driver, not a commentator on local politics.

      Too many people have been hijacking these F1 forums to push political viewpoints on the readers

      1. Quercus says:

        Hey, it’s the Bahrain elite that’s hijacked F1 for it’s political ends. The F1 Fans are reacting to events — not introducing the politics into this.

        If James thought it was inappropriate to discuss the politics suddenly thrust upon us, he wouldn’t have written this post.

      2. JF says:

        Well said! Agree 100%

        Lets hope all goes well, I suspect that the majority of this issue is media hype.

    6. CC says:

      He’s BE’s pawn and naive enough to think BE would walk the walk of his words and offer to ride back to their hotel with them any time, to demonstrate indeed all’s as well as he (and the others beyond any risk) say it is.

    7. Moxlox says:

      Hulkenburg’s not naive. He should be praised as the first driver to speak out, and articulate real concerns. His comment isn’t drawn into a political argument, but makes the palpable and obvious point that events in Bahrain the country are not normal and F1 personnel should not have been put in the middle of it.

  2. CarlH says:

    “We are ‘back on track’ in the sense that the cars are racing on our track. Some people have interpreted that we are saying that the country is back on track.”

    Hilarious. How did they expect it to be interpreted?

  3. Kevin Green says:

    Well i did say! and unfortunately i fear things may get far far worst! reflecting on things by now i bet Bernie!

    1. knoxploration says:

      I’d bet he’s not reflecting on anything except the mighty dollar, and nor is Todt. You know, our supposed leader who through his ex-team has strong ties to Bahrain and will do whatever the Bahraini government asks.

      If anybody from any team is injured this weekend, then both Todt and Ecclestone should be called upon to step down, because they have placed lining pockets ahead of the team’s safety, and they have shown absolutely no leadership whatsoever.

    2. matthew cheshire says:

      Probably not. There is no reason for Bernie to have dragged F1 back to Bahrain except for money. Its a complex political situation, but its simple for F1- the profit outweighs the risk for Bernie.

      The Force India incident is the kind of thing everyone expected. Ecclestone won’t be worried unless it escallates beyond his predictions.

      F1 is often described as a circus. What sane person brings a circus to a war zone?

      1. Quercus says:

        Precisely, the profit outweighs the risk for Bernie.

        You can bet your bottom dollar that apart from the airport, his hotel and the circuit, Bernie’s feet won’t touch the ground this weekend. [sfx. helicopter blades over]

  4. Jeremy says:

    “The drivers aren’t keen to get drawn into discussions about the political side.”

    And it seems James you aren’t either. This is your own site so why not express your own opinion?

    1. James Allen says:

      I’ve been discussing this event in all its aspects, especially the political side for months on this site.

      1. olivier says:

        hello James, it could be that Jeremy is new here.

        Here’s an idea for your web designer: Why not having a list of related links at the end of this article?

      2. Kevin Green says:

        Not as clearly as would be expected on various points though, certainly left myself wondering if you would or would rather not be there. Stand up and be heard!

      3. Stephen Hughes says:

        Don’t forget there is only so far James can go as he has links to the BBC. Independents like Joe Saward can go further as they have no ties and don’t need to worry about what their employer thinks.

        I don’t know if James can or will agree, but I suspect everyone would really rather not be involved but are trying to hold together for the sake of the sport.

      4. Davexxx says:

        I’m sure you’re a ‘regular’ so I’m surprised you’ve missed James’ previous comments which, while he has to try to remain ‘neutral’ so as to retain his lack of bias, still makes it clear what he thinks about having to be there if you read between the lines! Stop trying to force him into making a political statement! As many others have said here – F1 IS supposed to be about entertainment and not politics. Please don’t let’s spoil the main point of this website.

      5. Dan Orsino says:

        James you do not have to.

        This is a motor racing blog. Nobody has to study the politics of Bahrain.

      6. Wu says:

        The problem with political issues is that whatever you say, how much you want to be unbiased in your reportings, people will always interpret along the lines of their own ideology. Polarity and tribalism of politics is as strong as it has ever been.

    2. jeff says:

      I think you’re mistaking the opinionators such as those who appear on Fox (aka Faux) news in the USA with journalists.

      James is a true journalist. He reports facts, both sides of a story, and lets the readers decide. I can form my own opinions, and don’t need others to tell me how or what to think.

      Stay safe, James. I hope nothing bad happens, but the Force India incident shows just how serious this could get, and how badly the FIA could be messing up here.

      Jeff

    3. Sebee says:

      Isn’t it James’ role to feed us as much information as possible and let us make a decision? Perhaps discuss our views below?

      I’m sick and tired of media telling me what to think. I actually enjoy this site for that very reason: Unbiased reporting.

      1. RogerRoger says:

        +1

      2. I am glad James tries to be unbiased in his reporting and reading of the situation, considering he must have an opinion, which I think he is right to keep for himself.

        Forums should be well inspired to follow dinner party etiquette: one should never express their opinions on religion, politics or money. Everyone should be able to make up their own mind.

        Personally, I am not in Bahrain, nor have I ever been and I just don’t know how big or valid the protest is. Maybe the local government are a bunch of tyrants, maybe they are decent people who do not have control of everything happening in their kingdom. Only people living there do know.

        It’s very easy to comment or express morals when not affected either way by the unrest.

      3. Sebee says:

        You’re right. The only issue is that being keyboard worriors is an easy gig, and these days everyone has an opinion on everything and chimes in. I have to tell you I almost feel obligated because the voices of those against Bahrain taking place is all you hear – and that makes for an unbalanced discussion.

        As for your last to points, perhaps we should look at Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Lybia, even Egypt – and see how the good intentions, “assisstance” and intervention of the West are working out in those parts of the world.

        I think another point of etiquette is for one not to involve oneself into another’s demestic dispute. If a CEO of a big corporation has such a domestic dispute it doesn’t make other corporation stop conducting business with said company, does it? Exactly. Which is why F1 contract has clearly nothing to do with Bahrain domestic dispute issues in my mind.

      4. Richard says:

        Absolutely agree. James carry on reporting what you see and hear on your excellent website.

        It is not James’ job to tell us what to think.

        This is a highly complex situation and reporting the facts is the best way of handling it.

  5. Ahmed says:

    Great article… Keep us posted and hoping you, F1, and Bahrain stay safe

  6. russ says:

    Could not imagine the great Aryton Senna racing under such circumstances.

    One word for Bernie and F1 – Karma.

    1. alexbookoo says:

      Senna did race in apartheid South Africa in 1985, unfortunately, after considering not going. The following year the whole sport boycotted South Africa, giving the lie to Bernie’s claim that F1 doesn’t take political positions.

    2. Natalie says:

      Well, he (and the rest of the grid it must be said) was happy to race in the 1985 South African GP, despite the international backlash against apartheid.

    3. Kevin Green says:

      Bit of a delicate situation to be putting it tat way is it not? its peoples lives at stake!

      1. russ says:

        And that’s the point the F1 circus has chosen to ignore.

        I have never seen so many organisations and individuals absolving themselves from responsibility.

        Anyone with a moral compass surely will not be watching this race meeting,

  7. moose says:

    political or not, when things like that happen, you freak out. especially when you know it can happen any time

  8. aezy_doc says:

    It’s a bit two faced of Mr Ecclestone to on the one hand say F1 and politics shouldn’t mix but as James says “the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone have allowed the government to use the F1 brand in its political messaging about the country moving forward.” Hmmmm.

    1. alexbookoo says:

      Yes and it’s dishonest to say a race has nothing to do with politics when it is funded by government subsidy. The Bahrain Grand Prix couldn’t be more political.

      1. meltwaterfalls says:

        Couldn’t agree more with both of these sentiments

  9. Dmitry says:

    My fingers are crossed for everything to be fine, but it is only a hope, because a reality might get ugly very fast and unexpected.

    Even if everything goes bad, I hope noone will be hurt.

    1. Dmitry says:

      Ah, and yes – I still think it was not the right decision to race here.

      1. AENG says:

        I’m an ardent fan of F1 but think F1 management should have canceled Bahrain, elas, $$$ rules

  10. Andrew S says:

    Im think I read something somewhere where Bernie said something along the lines of F1 going into Bahrain wont stop or ame the protests happen – which I guess is a bit true – BUT the prospect of the worlds media being onsite gives protestors the chance to have their moment withthe world watching.
    Intersting that SKY didnt give comment after the incident with Sahara Force India and only the BBC gave a comment.

    Racing isnt more important than what is going on in Bahrain but I hope we get through the wekeend without any individual person getting hurt.
    Couple of quesitons please james:-
    1) have you travelled to Bahrain?
    2) What kind of security do teams provide for the “back room” staff ie the people we dont see or hear about on TV?

    Thanks

    Andrew

    1. James Allen says:

      Is it not clear from the piece that I’m in Bahrain? Yes.

      The teams have all got security people looking after them, the drivers and management have specific people detailed to them, but that’s not unusual. That happens a lot anyway

      1. Brisbane Bill says:

        And James – what is it looking like from a fan’s perspective? Are numbers of race-goers looking like they will be significantly down compared with 2 years ago (almost certain to be)? Are you able to get amongst any that are attending (particularly foreigners to Bahrain) and get their view on the situation – how nervous are they? Have they experienced anything that might indicate the situation is going to worsen? What arrangements have been made for their security re: transportation to and from the track?

  11. olivier says:

    They should cancel the podium celebrations if the race does go ahead. No podium celebration = no large crowd.

    1. Sebee says:

      Are you serious?

      What’s an F1 event? Isn’t that a gathering of a crowd of motor sport fans who want to see the fastest machines race?

      As for Bahrain stretching it a bit – OK, UniF1ed is not that far off – after the race was cancelled last year. And neither is Back on Track. If a lawer can argue that both meanings while open to interpetation have the intended meaning of UniF1ed F1 fans, and F1 baing Back on Track – let’s not over dramatize and read into subliminal messages. Whatever political message there may be will drown it out quite quickly in my mind with 24 engines at 18,000RPM.

    2. Wu says:

      Apart from Sebee’s comment, not having a podium celebration would be one hell of a political statement. It would also mean that F1 likes to take sides in politics but only when they don’t lose any money. Terrible, terrible idea.

  12. Sebee says:

    Do it F1!

    Get it done, ignore the non-F1 related drama.

    1. alexbookoo says:

      Sebee, we had an exchange on another post and we each put our views respectfully, but it didn’t seem to do any good. How do you square your claim that the dramas are “non F1-related” with James’ sentence “It’s quite surprising the extent to which the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone have allowed the government to use the F1 brand in its political messaging”? It’s a political Grand Prix pure and simple.

      1. Sebee says:

        I’m not going to explain what James ment by that line because I never met him in person, we never sat down to a pint to chat. I can tell you how I read it if you like. I read this as situation being delicate that it should be black and white – F1 is sport, and F1 brand should only be allowed to be used in a sport context.

        I’m also realistic. This situation is not black and white and each region has ways of marketing their event, in this case with some well documented challanges. The UniF1ed bit and Back on Track I think may have a subliminal meaning if you want to read into it that far. But I already explained above that after missing a season, UniF1ed to me means F1 fans unified in desire to host a successful GP. I’m in that pack. And Back on Track means to me F1 cars back on the Bahrain Track. That’s it. We can take this to another site (marketing related) if you wish and discuss all the marketing slogans for every brand otu there which can be interpreted ten thousand ways.

        I think Bernie allowed it because it doesn’t stretch things. And after spending 1/3 of his life with lawyers, Bernie knows that there is no wrong doing in those two slogans. He negotiates, gets paid and event market’s itself. If marketing is good, great. If not, he doesn’t care that the track lost money if the fee check clears in advance of arrival.

        Look, I’m not insensitive to the situation. But as I have stressed on number of occasions, the protests must be peaceful, and I’ll tell you what my instant gut response is to the disorder and fire bombing of random targets – Lock the damn thing down, bring out the military presence that restores order and safety. There is no room for error this weekend. I must say Bahraini government is being quite cool here by the sound of it.

        If there are protesters, and their way of protesting is to rendomly throw fire bombs at people who are innocent and not involved, I’m turning my eye the other way while the military or police deal with it in whatever way they see fit. I have no problem with a severe response to such acts in Bahrain, just like I have no problem with with same response to such acts on the streets of London, L.A., or anywhere else on this big marble.

        If these protesters want the world’s attention, they may have it. They want support – follow laws of the land, protest in non-violent way, get your clear message out and we will listen and perhaps help if possible. Be smart and diplomatic about it. This is a small world and there is a way to get your message out. If they choose not to and follow through on rendom violent acts – I hope they don’t expect the world to be in their corner.

      2. StallionGP F1 says:

        What a brilliant take on the situation.

      3. Brisbane Bill says:

        Hmmm – so, so naive. Given that the Bahrain GP is funded by the government there is NO POSSIBLE way on earth to market it without there being a political element to it. And so naive to think that, whether you choose to accept the potential for a double meaning to “UniF1ed” and “Back on Track” or not accept, it doesn’t avoid the fact that the double meaning exists and will be used in a political sense.

        And naive to think that, if another entity was trying to use the F1 brand in this way Bernie wouldn’t be marching straight to the courts to block its use.

        And naive in the extreme to think that, in a country that is not a democracy where freedom of speech and human rights are accepted norms as we, in the enlightened western world enjoy, the “citizens” can have a sensible democratic discussion about where things might be improved. They riot precisely because they do not have a voice. How else to be heard? Write a letter to The Times? Canvas their local MP? I don’t bloody think so.

      4. alexbookoo says:

        Very unconvincing response, Sebee. During our other exchange, you edged towards a position of saying it’s all about the money, contracts can’t be broken, and there’s no moral element to it so don’t expect anything more from F1. That’s a position which is wrong, I believe, but at least has a certain consistency to it.

        But here you’re really stretching credulity to say the race isn’t being used as a political tool by the Royals, and putting arguments about UniF1ed and Back on Track that make you sound like a politician wriggling out of something that everyone else can see.

      5. Daniel Hoyes says:

        Wow, thanks to Sebee for just demonstrating how to pro-Bahrain GP (i.e. “no link between sport and politics”) is so entertainingly stupid.

        Bernie has allowed the sports-politics link to be even stronger damaging the image of F1 and increasing the threat of danger to those in F1 – and though the danger may still be limited, the damage to F1′s credibility will be felt.

      6. Sebee says:

        Sometimes I soften my stance a bit, but I believe I have been consistent.

        I support this event happening. I’m under no illusion who is paying for it. I’m not in support of protest, violence – read my other comments. I believe the organizes who built a facility at great expense and pay the hosting fee for sport we enjoy deserve a bit of room in their marketing effort of this even under challanging circumstances. I’m not reading tea leaves here about UniF1ed or Back on Track and making a big deal out of it. I also know that product marketing and langauge varies from region to region.

        As for Daniel Hoyes – Bernie is just riding a marketing free-bee. As he is a master of doing. I think everyone is blowing this whole event way way out of proportion.

        Hey was Ferrari in the top 5 today?

  13. danb says:

    Its good to hear an honest unbiased opinion of what is actually going on there, stay safe James and thanks

  14. Gareth says:

    and its only Thursday, lets hope nothing crazy happens Sunday

  15. AA says:

    Very re-freshing to see the unbiased reporting on the facts, and not being drawn to one side or the other, like most F1 sites seem to have been. (I say one side or the other, it’s really only one side). Keep up the great work James.

  16. ROBERTO MARQUEZ says:

    I think as time goes on it will be more and more difficult to hold races in muslim countries. Their beliefs are opposite occidental beliefs and radicalism seems to be where they are going. Why not try some new venues like Dominican Republic,Poland,Sweden,Austria,Mexico. In some of these countries there migth be security problems with delincuents, but I would hate to see a suicidal bomber blowing part of the pits area in one of these fanatical countries.

    1. Aezy says:

      What a strange comment. The unrest in Bahrain could happen anywhere. Civil unrest is not confined merely to Muslim countries. There are moderates and extremists all over the world and it’s not as though terrorist attacks don’t happen in other “non Muslim” countries.

      1. Brisbane Bill says:

        Yes, delete this comment James. Suicide bombers could strike anywhere and the issue here is not religious. The IRA could choose to gain notoriety by targetting the British GP (probably have had security concerns on that front in the past – didn’t stop any race occuring). Also, GPs happen where there is money to make them happen, not just because they are nice or interesting places to be. It takes a huge investment to create a track that can host F1 and another huge investment to persuade Bernie to use your track. So can’t see somewhere like the Dominican Republic hosting a race anytime soon.

  17. Neil Jenney says:

    My instincts tell me that if there is going to be a serious incident it will be when the cameras are on and the world is watching, inside the circuit and during the race.

    My personal opinion is that the risk of being there outweighs the reasons for being there. I hope no one is hurt as a result.

    1. Sebee says:

      Now risk vs. reward is a good way to analyze this, and I agree that would be a tough discussion on both sides of the coin.

      The only problem is that like it or not, big chunk of our beloved sport is now paid for by Middle East money. I keep saying, let’s not go down the rabbit hole. It’s deep, and it may not be pretty.

      1. Neil Jenney says:

        We are definitely thinking along the same lines. My comments were born out of the thought that if you move into areas with less political stability and human rights issues, for me personally, the risk of human injury, including both F1 personnel and the local population, outweighs the financial return to a sport I am so deeply invested in.

        The second element I am uncomfortable with it the lack of emotional investment on the part of the newer F1 nations. I fear that if the tide turns we could quickly have a financial vacuum and a short calendar due to the traditional venues being cast aside. Compare the almost universal emotional reaction to the potential removal of the British GP from the calendar to the political and financial shackles that have resulted in the 2012 Bahrain GP going forward.

      2. Sebee says:

        F1 brings us joy, we follow it and enjoy it and we feel we have an interest in it and we honestly care. But the guardians of this sport subscribe to a different standard of values. Please don’t read this this wrong way – I’m not saying shady or unethical – simply, they are not scared to break a few eggs to make an omlet. And so they are not afraid to make deals with borderline regions which perhaps don’t subscribe to our values to pay for the sport. And this comes down again to reducing the issue to black and white. F1 is there to race, not to argue about a countiry polictical system, or your human rights record. And I’m confident that any regime that has a heavy handed approach over their citizens can assure the safety of the F1 circus. Even if you don’t like the record, I can’t see how being in China is worse than not being there. I also say same for F1 being in Bahrain – it’s better to be there than to not be there. As for the issues, at least these protesters have an audience – which I say again they should not abuse. Because first and foremost, it’s an F1 fan that is listening. Hurt those in F1, those organizing or working to put on the GP for us and these protesters will have lost their audience and possible support in a blink.

        As for your second point, I agree with you that there is lack of F1 history there, and like you say emotional investment. I’ll go one step further and recall a comment I made some months back – that I have no urge to visit these new venues. They are lovely on TV, but that’s all. When I started making a list of F1 races I wanted to see in person years ago it was; Spa, Monza, Monaco, Silverstone, Suzuka, Interlagos, Montreal that were on the list. Not China, Malaysia, Abu Dhabi, etc. I don’t think this will change even in a decade or two. However, I’ll tell you why you should not worry or be uncomfortable if the tide turns. F1 is a premium product, premium event – and to host they pay a premium price. If things turn and need comes, F1 will cut the hosting fee to bring on races and fill up the calendar. It will be incredibly easy to do this. So fear not. Let’s recognize what Mr. E. has done here – he’s increased the value of F1 incredibly, and delivers one heck of a good product to our TVs for us to enjoy. And the pricing model has plan B and plan C options built into it that make other motor racing series uncomparable when it comes to the sport’s long term security.

    2. Neil Daniel says:

      Qualifying’s going to be nervy for the wrong reasons. I would be perfectly happy to do without the pre and post-race shows and just have commentary from a different place played on top of footage. Still don’t think F1 should be there, have a nasty feeling about all this.

  18. Dave C says:

    I am reading quite a lot of other media sources on this topic (as i like to make up my own mind) and have to say…

    Well balanced articles on this James. Thank you for being a journalist rather than a sensationalist.

    Cheers
    DC

  19. Nelson, Bahrain says:

    Welcome to Bahrain James – and seeing for yourself the “peaceful protestors” who have made so many peoples’ lives a misery over the past year. Naturally they’re trying to make a “show” for the F1, and it’s sad that team personnel have had to experience the molotov situation. You’ll probably also see some smoke from burning tyres in the distance over the next couple of days, which their apologists on twitter etc will try to romanticise as “sky lanterns” or other nonsense.

    Basically, they’re mostly youngish, impressionable kids with little idea of why they’re being sent out on the streets, with some fairly cynical thugs in the background.

    The thing is that they’re only a small minority, even among the opposition groups. It seems to me that essentially it’s a question of to what extent you’re prepared to allow a violent minority to hijack a country and its sporting events. It’s a crying shame for Bahrain that the media in the west has let these violent groups take over the agenda from the more moderate voices (such as the one mentioned in your article), to the extent that the moderates now feel they have to justify themselves to “the street”.

  20. Solid Snake says:

    Talking about the Force India incident Bahrain circuit chairman Zayed R Alzayani said:

    “I think it’s unfortunate. It’s an issue of timing. It could happen in any place in the world really, getting caught up in a riot or a fight or anything.”

    Exactly what planet is this man on James?

    1. rgvkiwi says:

      Well I am not sure what planet you are on ? surely the London riots, ant world trade demonstrations in most western countries over the past decade or so.

      I was caught in a random riot in Auckland New Zealand in 1986 at a central city concert. Wasn’t huge on the world stage but was frightening none the less.

      I agree with the comments above and think you are a little too cosy in your naive litttle blanket….

      My biggest concern here is that it “appears” to be a vocal minority. IF that is the case the world press and attention they are getting is simply ridiculous. EVERY country has a disaffected minority somewhere that given a voice would/could create drama.

      Not having an F1 race due to a sudden and well timed “protest for rights” would create a ridiculous precedent that would be bound to be repeated by any disaffected “minority group”.

      Talking about this year, Surely the timing of this so called “uprising” makes the whole thing seem a little contrived and not spontaneous like a real, valid uprising would have…?

    2. Brisbane Bill says:

      He speaks the truth. Here in Australia (and how do you view Australia from a security perspective?) we have had a recent string of shootings across the country. It is linked to bikie gangs and drugs. That could happen at any time and could coincide with the running of the Australian GP. Does that stop the F1 circus coming to town?

      In England, the riots of last year could have coincided with team personnel being on transit from a European mainland event to the British GP. Does that make the UK an inherently dangerous place to be?

      In the US, a black youth gets shot, then there are some localised reactions and we have seen how those riots can end. If that coincides with one of the US races, should we stop going to the US to race?

      Brazil – Sao Paulo – do I need to say any more?

      The truth is, you cannot predict what is going to happen, when, where and what the trigger for a violent event will be. All you can do is understand the environment you are in and what actions you might be able to take if an event occurs. It’s called risk management (and that is my profession). Bad stuff happens all the time. To avoid it you have to be already dead. So don’t get paralysed by it. Understand the risks and what your options for controlling that risk are. Then go ahead and live your life and do stuff.

    3. P King says:

      @ Solid Snake – you asked ““I think it’s unfortunate. It’s an issue of timing. It could happen in any place in the world really, getting caught up in a riot or a fight or anything.”
      Exactly what planet is this man on James?”

      Let me remind you that last year in London, Prince Charles and Camilla were caught up in a violent Student Fees demonstration where the Royal protection officer was moments away from opening fire with his gun.
      see report http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1337478/
      “The Duchess of Cornwall was jabbed in the ribs with a stick through an open car window as she and Prince Charles were surrounded by a baying mob in the worst royal security breach in a generation….. armed officers were ‘seconds’ from pulling out their weapons, Met chief Sir Paul Stephenson said: ‘The officers who were protecting their Royal Highnesses showed very real restraint – some of those officers were armed.”

    4. Daniel Hoyes says:

      So the argument goes “bad things happen in other areas of the world, so it’s ok if bad things happen in this area of the world too”???

      When holding an event somewhere you’d have to consider the scale, the time frame of the trouble, as well as if the event is in any way endorsing one particular viewpoint or side in the trouble.

      When asking any of those questions, the London riots (or anything else mentioned in this argument) PALES into insignificance when compared to this. The London riots match this situation for amount of headlines, but very little else.

      But the most important aspect is the F1 image has allowed itself to be used for political purposes, making F1 more involved in the conflict than any possible way it could involved in the London riots, or any other conflict mentioned.

  21. Nelson, Bahrain says:

    PS to add: Personally, I’m reasonably confident that the police have this under control – certainly they’ve had long enough to prepare for it. The sad thing is that they’ll once again be in the frontline of the violence that never seems to get reported in the west.

  22. Danf182 says:

    Excellent, well balanced piece of journalism.

    I personally think Bernie and the FIA have got it wrong again. They could have said ‘no’ to the race without taking any political position, citing the security of team members, journalists, spectators and others as the reason. At the end of the day, the safety of all people who attend the race is in question.

    Please keep safe there James! F1 fans all over the world are hoping that those involved are safe and make it back in one piece!

  23. Ben says:

    You don’t expect to be reading about Molotov Cocktails on a Formula 1 site.

    My understanding of the political situation in Bahrain is limited but my thoughts are with all those who have travelled there. The decision about whether the race was on or off was no doubt down to insurance and avoiding penalty clauses in contracts, and not so much about the safety and well-being of the individuals who end up having Molotov Cocktails thrown at them – targeted or otherwise.

    Let’s just hope everything goes well.

  24. franed says:

    Looking forward to your commentary over the weekend James. With that and the live timing on Formula1.com I can live without sky.
    Stay safe.

  25. Rob Newman says:

    The people of Bahrain have the right to raise their voice but violence is not the answer.

    I just want everyone out there in Bahrain including the teams, media personnel, the marshals, all other staff and the spectators to be safe and enjoy the Grand Prix.

    1. Quercus says:

      Come on Rob. The people of Bahrain did raise their voices — I’m glad you think they have a right to do this — and as a consequence the ruling class used violence on them. So what are the people then supposed to do?

  26. [MISTER] says:

    If this GP will happen, I hope it will happen without incidents.

    But my main worry is that some people might actually jump the fence onto the track durring the GP.

    Wish everybody there to be safe.

    1. Kevin Green says:

      As I said before don’t think the race will happen (ref 5 day old comment bring on the next race in Spain) But they are there now anyway so I reckon they will make use of the first 2 practice sessions for obv reasons, and pull out of the qualifying and race with them being the obv more likely target times for any violence/terrorism.

      F1 appears to be the “peoples” best political tool the people in Bahrain have on the world stage like it or not. And ironically paid for by there opposition the government!.

      F1 in on Wednsday out on Sat Nato troops in on Sunday? What a world we live in!.

    2. Brisbane Bill says:

      Happens in Europe. Remember the scot at the British GP? How about the Italian track invasions? Are they not a threat to the safety of drivers? Don’t worry, the rioters won’t be able to afford the ticket prices to get anywhere near the track.

      1. Kevin Green says:

        And that’s the exact problem, so much poverty and an unjustifiable event on the financial scale that it is!

  27. Richard D says:

    I have a horrible fealing that if the situation doesn’t deteriorate so much over the next couple of days that the race gets cancelled, the protesters will have something lined up for race day. Despite the security arrangements, these protesters are so committed their cause that they could use the race as a platform for a protest. We’ve already heard reports about the use of Molatov cocktails; hate to think what one of them could do at a race circuit. Not too late to cancel now!

    1. Brisbane Bill says:

      Wow – such hysteria over ONE Molotov cocktail. Having lived through 20 years of IRA bombings and several race riots, it really doesn’t sound like there is much that would phase a security force. As long as the police and military personnel are doing their job then the minority of rioters should not be a real threat to the F1 event. The issue really comes from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Surely the teams should co-ordinate things a little better so that you have conveys escorted by security teams when travelling to and from hotels rather than letting individual cars wander around by themselves.

  28. Justin says:

    “It’s quite surprising the extent to which the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone have allowed the government to use the F1 brand in its political messaging about the country moving forward.”

    I guess that’s what you get for 50 million euros…..

  29. Nigel says:

    “I don’t think so and I’ve made it clear that politically there is a long way to go to get the stability we had before. But that’s not our job, that’s left to the government; we run a social and sports event…”

    It would be much easier to separate sport and politics if the Bahrain government hadn’t already conflated the two; if the circuit wasn’t owned by a member of the ruling family; if Bahrain wasn’t represented on the World Motor Sports Council (which makes the decision about whether the race should take place) by a member of the ruling family.

    The Bahrain regime seem to want to have their cake and eat it.

  30. Quattro_T says:

    Even though I was dissappointed (kind of expected though) that top drivers did not (at least) hint that freedom and safety of humans is more important than money and even F1, I wished Vettel would just shut up and not give his view the situation.

    Quoting a recent article from autosport.com:


    World champion Sebastian Vettel was one of those who did compare the situation to Brazil.

    “I heard about the Force India issue,” he said when asked about his feelings on the event. “I think generally being in the paddock it seems to be no problem. Surely outside the paddock there is a risk, but there is a risk everywhere we go.

    “You imagine when we go to Brazil it is not the place you want to be, depending on the area you are in. It is not a big problem and I am happy once we start testing tomorrow because then we worry about stuff that really matters – tyre temperatures, and cars.”

    Source: autosport.com

    Apparently “tyre temperatures, and cars” is what really matters, not human lives…

    I was chocked when I read about his comments on autosport.com. His comments are very ignorant and also disrespectful, not only for the Bahrainis protesting for freedom, but also for Brazilians.
    Glad I never was and never will be a fan no matter nr of titels, Vettel!

    1. James Allen says:

      I was front row for that press meeting and yes, the Brazil comment sounded wrong when he said it. I think he knew it too.

      As for the “really important things” he was grinning when he said it. He was being ironic but you can’t see irony on a page so easily

      1. aezy_doc says:

        It’s true though, there are some parts that they wouldn’t want to go to in Brazil. Mind you, there are some parts of the UK I don’t want to go to either! Very revealing though about how the drivers feel about all of this.

      2. StallionGP F1 says:

        I don’t think the Brazil comment was wrong in any way as if Jenson Button had not been in an armoured vehicle we would be saying something different right about now.

      3. matthew cheshire says:

        I hope you are right James. Vettel is going to be around for a long time, and he of all the young drivers needs to be a positive influence.

        He actually seems very “switched on” and I don’t believe his comment was meant to be taken on face value either.

      4. Kevin Green says:

        That’s a serious image hit for Vettel and Red Bull then.

  31. Quercus says:

    There’s a big difference between Bahrain and San Paulo, James. The first is political unrest brought about by a ruling autocracy dumping on a disadvantaged populace; the second (Brazil) is simply crime. It’s important to carry on as normal in the face of the latter, and it’s important to keep a distance from the former.

    I’m disappointed that Bernie let F1 be used as a political statement by those with money and power. They shouldn’t have gone.

    1. Kevin Green says:

      Backfired though so in a sense as long as all personnel get out unharmed its turned into a positive for the people of Bahrain at the government and F1 FIA org cost??

  32. Michael says:

    Back when I was a kid, I’d never have dreamed of watching F1 – I viewed it as a glorified tobacco advert. Now I fear we may be in danger of creating a generation that associates F1 with sleazy, big-money deals with dubious autocrats, while at the same time, we casually abandon the heritage of many of the great European circuits.

    The only reason F1 is in Bahrain is because the despotic government has the sport bought and paid for. I don’t suppose old Bernie worries much about the long term damage the sport is suffering for short term financial gain.

    1. ¨for sure¨ says:

      Not ¨we may be in danger of creating…¨, we have created. It’s alive and well worshiping the mighty $ in Bahrain.

  33. Horno says:

    Offtopic, but James,
    Any comment on this article

    http://af.reuters.com/article/energyOilNews/idAFL6E8FJ6I020120419

    What does this mean for the Mercedes F1 team?

    1. James Allen says:

      It means they’ll either have to get a new partner or pay a lot of money to buy back the shares. But it will be handled at Daimler board level, I’d imagine, rather than gravitate down to the F1 team

      1. Maybe that is part of the backdrop to the rumored dissatisfaction of Mercedes with F1. The Mercedes F1 team parent company is suddenly faced with the prospect of stumping up a lot more cash to buy out Aabar or finding investors to buy 40% of the team in a hurry. This was not expected or planned for, and it might be the second issue of its type in the last 3 years, in addition to the infamous “disappearing sponsor” issue at the end of 2009.

  34. James Walton says:

    I follow 3 F1 websites, 4 if we count the usually neutral Beeb, and I would say that the majority sentiment within the F1 community – fans, participants, staff – is against this GP going ahead. I’m guessing that most of us think we are making ourselves hostage to something dreadful happening, like a bomb in the pit lane or stands, or a suicide dash across the track, after which a lot of highly expensive glossy machinery and very well paid drivers might look a bit out of place. And most of us have sympathy for the people of Bahrain, identifying the holding of this race with the ruling elite, and in doing so inadvertently or otherwise making it look like F1 takes political sides.

    1. ¨for sure¨ says:

      ………and that’s the conclusion that any sane individual making a judgement would have reached. Says it all!

  35. Chris R says:

    Hear no evil, See no evil, Speak no evil.

    So here we are, Bahrain has arrived and the standoff ended without anyone blinking.

    In the context of media coverage, im sure every relevant journalist is just waiting for something dramatic, big to happen. We have all the ingredients for something right here.

    The question is, were the 3 monkeys right.

    Oh and there is a race going on too. It’s a real shame that after last weeks stonker of a race, we have a race that everyone should be looking forward to, instead being hijacked by people with their own motives/agendas.

  36. Jason C says:

    The issue of the grand prix came up on BBC’s Question Time tonight, so if you have access to the programme you can see that segment which starts about 8 minutes from the end.

  37. Methusaelm says:

    What if, God forbid, something tragic occurs over the weekend? Who would take the responsibility? Could that mean, bye, bye to the 2012 F1 season? Who would be proclaimed champion?

  38. Stone the crows says:

    James, thanks for the excellent reporting. Just read that Nabeel Rajab, the leader of the government opposition group Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, has admitted that the next protests – ‘three days of rage’, are to coincide with the race’s three-day calendar – are aimed specifically at F1. That must be one of the protests Yates was speaking of.

  39. JohnBt says:

    Since they’re there all the best to the F1 entourage and hope for the best that nothing major happens. Hard to fathom that I will be watching without thinking that nothing’s happening and all is fine. Bernie’s been very quiet, hiding perhaps.

  40. Daniel MA says:

    I wonder what the attendance will be for the weekend, if in the past most of them were locals then we´ll see a lot of empty grandstands.

  41. kevin n says:

    Piles of money being poured into dirty hands. This is what this is. It’s an ugly reality that shouldn’t be supported. Shame on F1.

  42. Ryan Eckford says:

    James, what area of Bahrain are you staying in and how far is it from the circuit and the airport?

    1. James Allen says:

      Hopefully a safe part! The drive from Manama to track is about 25kms

      1. Ryan Eckford says:

        I hope everything goes well this weekend, and that all the headlines will be about great racing, rather than protests, disruptions and chaos. Stay safe James.

  43. Be it fight for freedom/democracy or whatever, F1 shouldn’t go to dangerous places. Track official said some nice things about the situation on the street level but obviously no-one wants to go thru wot SFI guys have experienced. Between F1 and my life, I’d choose the latter! It was a mistake to go there in the first place, the guy who negotiated the contract is a bit out of touch with reality. Maybe 2006 race was kinda entertaining, still the event never really established itself along with Turkey. A waste of time. Sooner or later all these fabricated new venues will suffer the same fate.

  44. Steve Selasky says:

    All, I know is F1 follows the money. They go to tracks that provides… the money. TV goes to the highest bidder….. World politics is irrelevant. Otherwise, you see people donating their salaries to the orphans of Sao Paulo.

    So, all the conversation about Bahrain is well meaning and intented. However, it doesn’t really add a lot of value to the man on the streets of Manama does it?

    Steve

    1. Sebee says:

      Steve,

      Yes, F1 follows the money, but I don’t understand the outrage on this point. You follow the money on the way to work each day.

      Someone has to pay for the expensive stage and cast members in our bi-weekly Show. OK, usually, but it really should ALWAYS be bi-weekly.

      Bottom line, probably about 2M people go to a GP each year. 100s of millions watch GPs each year. Who’s the target audience? That’s right – TV viewers. So what do you care about where the signal is beamed from?

      Have fun with it and drink beer and eat food on the GP weekend based on the country the GP is in and let Bernie look after the rest. This weekend is really a tough one – what’s the tranditional food and drink in Bahrain?

      1. Steve Selasky says:

        True. My point (and not well put) is that any conversation is meaningless about the political situation without backing the words.

        With the logic of “following the money” F1 would race in Syria or Myanmar if the money was there….

        Do I care about the track location. Yup, I do. Don’t like the new tracks for all the reasons been discussed before.

      2. Sebee says:

        That’s an extreme view. People have used this Syria and North Korea example – but we know this is taking the money point to extreme. That would not happen – even Bernie has his limits.

  45. P King says:

    The Bahrain Police show a lot of restraint, considering what they are faced with every night. I visit Bahrain about twice a month, and my observation is that the silent majority of people do not support the aims of the violent agitators and dissidents. Peaceful demos are allowed, just as in Britain, if the route and location is notified to the Police in advance.

    The violence that happens almost every night is in the Shia villages, where illegal gatherings and demos are arranged, and to attack Police Stations. See for yourself:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZTKEK4phPY0
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38TPcdT5Rms
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4KTibP7GyDE

  46. AuraF1 says:

    Did Bernie ever show up? I believe he said he had pressing engagements in London so couldn’t be there? It’d be interesting to see if he does make a showing.

    1. James Allen says:

      Yes, he’s here. So is Jean Todt

  47. Nick says:

    I think Joe Saward summed it up perfectly:

    “F1 will come out of the race meeting with the look of an out-of-touch, money-grabbing sport with no discernible morals and no discernible backbone.”

    What’s your take James?

  48. Amir says:

    Check out this article by F1Fanatic. It’s very good.

    http://t.co/HgH78LJC

  49. Pingback: Anonymous
  50. Karen says:

    Oh, how I wish that this weekend signals the end of Bernie’s reign. His arrogant, dismissive and condescending attitude this week is nothing short of offensive. And for all of the teams to fall in line behind him and say nothing about what is right has made me very sad. I’m not sure if I will ever be able to watch F1 again without feeling a sense of anger and disappointment at what has happened, and what will continue to happen, during this Grand Prix.

    When I hear the argument that they’re just race drivers and they really don’t have anything to do with politics, I feel that that’s just a cop out. This is a chance for people to stand up for what is right. Instead, hundreds, if not thousands, of people are being arrested and tortured, and possibly killed, just so a race can take place. And drivers and teams continue to bury their heads in the sand and say nothing.

    Shame on F1. I have been watching this sport for close to 20 years. But after everything I have seen and read surrounding this race, I think I’m done watching it ever again if they don’t get rid of Bernie Ecclestone. I’m sure he won’t lose any sleep over losing this Canadian girl as a fan, but at least I’ll be able to hold my head up high, knowing that my conscience is clear and my lack of support will no longer put money in that offensive little man’s wallet.

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