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F1 Authorities rally to support Bahrain GP
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Posted By: James Allen  |  15 Feb 2012   |  10:07 am GMT  |  106 comments

The last couple of days have seen some robust defence of the F1 Grand Prix in Bahrain.

The sport’s commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone has briefed some of the Fleet Street (UK newspaper) journalists that the teams are 100% behind it and the FIA has also said that it thinks the event would help to heal tensions in the country. This is despite a return of violence to the streets of the country, on the anniversary of the Day of Rage. So what are we to make of it, with two months to go to the event?

Attention now focusses on the teams, to see whether their appetite to race in Bahrain is as strong as Ecclestone suggests. All eyes will focus particularly on McLaren’s team principal Martin Whitmarsh who put his signature to the letter last autumn telling the FIA that the teams would not attend a rescheduled 2011 event. McLaren’s main shareholder is the Bahraini investment fund Mumtalakat and Whitmarsh’s actions did not endear him to his paymasters last time.

This time things are different on a number of levels: the F1 Teams’ Association, of which Whitmarsh is also chairman, now represents only 8 of the 12 F1 teams. And the Bahraini regime believes that it has done enough with an independent review of the troubles of 2011 and some implementation of its findings, to set the country on the road to change. Opposition groups disagree and are still protesting. So who are we to believe?

There is clearly good and bad on both sides.

Tuesday marked the first anniversary of the ‘Day of Rage’, when pro-democracy demonstrations in the country begun and which prompted a bloody crackdown by the authorities.

On Monday night there was a fresh flare-up of hostilities between protestors and security forces in villages on the outskirts of the capital Manama. Youths were reported to have thrown petrol bombs at police cars, with the police responding with tear gas and rubber bullets.

The kingdom’s response to the trouble was to deploy armoured vehicles in Manama and the surrounding areas for the first time since martial law in the country was lifted last June, although further clashes were reported near the focal point of last year’s protests, the former Pearl Roundabout.

Although the renewed violence hasn’t been on the scale of 12 months ago, the events of the last two days have not gone unnoticed at the UN whose Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement in which he voiced concern over the latest escalation of trouble and called for restraint from both sides.

The response from the F1 authorities to both the action on the streets and to the letter from Members of the UK parliament calling for the FIA to call the event off – has also been firm; both Bernie Ecclestone and the FIA say that the April 22 Grand Prix will go ahead as scheduled.

Ecclestone told the Guardian: “I expected there was going to be a big uprising today, with the anniversary. But I think what happened, apparently, was that here were a lot of kids having a go at the police. I don’t think it’s anything serious at all.

“It doesn’t change our position in any shape or form. If the people in Bahrain [the government] say, ‘Look Bernie, it wouldn’t be good for you to come over here,’ then I would think again. That is what they said last year.”

Meanwhile, the FIA, who were criticised for its handling of last year’s situation when the season-opening race was postponed, reinstated and then eventually cancelled altogether following opposition from the teams, said in a statement that it “like many in the diplomatic community in the kingdom, the main political opposition…believes the staging of a Grand Prix would be beneficial in bridging some of the difficulties Bahrain is experiencing”.

That viewpoint had also been made by an all-party group of UK MPs in a letter to The Times, which was contrary to a letter written by members of the House of Lords to the same newspaper last week which urged F1 not to return to Bahrain yet.

Given the state of play at the moment, it’s inevitable that the opposition will take the opportunity to make its point when F1 comes to town, not by disrupting the event because it will be easy for the authorities to secure the circuit, but downtown, where the teams, media and sponsors’ guests stay. It’s a prospect that few relish.

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1

Sky and the News International Publications will be doing what they can for it to go ahead. The BBC TV are not doing this one live and there’s already a great story building around it. This is a scoop for Sky and they’ll want it to go ahead however risky.

I expect the papers will sing from the same him sheet and ignore or refute any opinion that it should be cancelled.

2

I’ve got a much simpler reason for not heading up there from Dubai (where I live)to see the race. They’re holding it too late in the year this time. Late April!! The temperatures will already be fierce by then! Sitting in 40+ degree heat watching the most boring race of the year. Forget that. Lunacy, even if there weren’t the political issues. Maybe though there is method in the madness. Maybe the organisers hope that a serious bit of heat will sap the energy of any would be protesters…..?

3

I think it is naive to say that F1 has no political role and is outside of politics. F1 makes political statements knowingly or unknowingly not that infrequently, whether it be stopping racing in South Africa at the height of Apartheid or going back for the 1992 and 1993 races after the ends, whether it be having the first race behind the iron curtain in Hungary or whether it be the first race in China. F1 can be used for political means as well by others for example what happened in Turkey a few years ago with the president of Northern Cyprus (recognised only by Turkey) presenting the winners trophy. F1 always has and always will be political. They could make a good political statement by stating that they will not race there in the current political climate. However, seeing as Mr E’s bottom line is always the money, then that won’t happen now will it.

4

Didn’t our very own Damon Hill visit Bahrain recently and give a thumbs up? I am sure the situation is not that bad … unless he too has become a puppet of the FIA …

5

Isn’t the British Army stationary in Bahrain and could help if there is a problem? And probably the US as well, or not?

6

I hope the race does go ahead. Really I do.

I also hope the race is disrupted by the people and the world gets to see what an undemocratic state Bahrain really is.

This actually may benifit the country. F1 in town brings the media and so the plight of the people would be hard to ignore.

James, if you are there and people protest and disrupt the race, then please report whats happening. Please don’t sanitise it.

I just hope no one gets hurt… which I think isn’t realistic given the news stories.

🙁

7

Well Bernie’s laying down whats going to happen, I think it puts the smaller teams in a difficult position and makes me wonder, how many will pull out?

Who in their right mind would accept the dangers of staying in regular accommodation, when the risks are clearly there.

Unless all teams have decent security for the weekend, I dont see how Bernie can force them to go. Makes me think he knows this, and is probably being political.

8

What grinds me about this whole situation is this.Leaving aside the financial and political factors,the fact is that there are all kinds of civil unrest happening in Bahrain.Foreigners have been targeted,and it is a volatile and unpredictable place to be.It is unconscionable of the FIA and BE to demand teams place their personnel and property in harms way,purely for the sake of profit.Ask BE if he would demand that his daughters go along and travel incognito,without bodyguards or special arrangements being made,and see if that happens.

9

@Zane, “Foreigners have been targeted …” … Can you please confirm from where you are getting this information? In case you didn’t know, there are large number of expatriates from many different countries living with their families and working in Bahrain. No one is living in fear. I don’t think you are getting information from reliable sources.

10

Bahrain is not the only country which has issues. Just before F1 went to India, farmers were protesting. Brazil has always been dangerous. China has different problems. Every country will have some issue or other.

F1 is a sport and people should not use a sport for political gains. I don’t see any reason why the race in Bahrain shouldn’t go ahead.

11

Every country has problems, but not everyone practices torture.

12
Grayzee (Australia)

Hmmm…..I don’t get it!

There are so many countries vying for an F1 race that are much safer to travel in than Bahrain. Some of them might even have genuine race fans.

So why is the FIA even contemplating Bahrain?

Oh yeah….I forgot….the other countries don’t pay as much!

This whole debacle has NOTHING to do with politics, or safety, or anything else.

It’s has EVERYTHING to do with greed and MONEY!!

And it STINKS!

13

I wont be watching it, thats for sure.

14

Obviously BE thinks the $$ he gets from hosting the Bahrain GP worth a few drivers or team personnel having possibility of getting shot. @_@

15

Clearly, no one wants to be the one

that upsets the Bahrainis’ and who

can blame with their current

investment in F1. Jean Todt is

compromised by his sons involvement

with the crown prince in Lotus, so the

FIA stance is predictable. It will be

interesting to see who’s left holding

the baby this time when the music stops

if the race doesn’t go ahead.

16

The race may well go ahead, but will play to empty Stadia, is that an advert Bahrain wants to show the world?

Watch People and Power on AlJazeera English for an update on the situation:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZCFQm4dQVY&list=UUNye-wNBqNL5ZzHSJj3l8Bg&index=21&feature=plpp_video

And make up your mind if things have changed.

17

Hi James can you recall something similar happening in the past of F1 regarding is a country in a fit state to have a race? While it is no where near as bad all I can think is Munich and the olympics which naturally should never had carried on.

18

With the vast media coverage surrounding F1 I’d say it’s impossible for the sport and teams to distance themselves from current events. The moment they land in the country the dividing line between sport and politics will become invisible.

Whilst the facilities are exceptional the races typically do not generate as much excitement or entertainment as say Monaco, Silverstone, Monza, Spa, etc. Bahrain could/should be dropped from the calendar.

19
Ahmad Al-Bashrawi

Actually, I don’t care anymore if the Bahrain GP takes place this year or not. I think it’s wrong for a sport to support either side of the conflict especially when you have such reports around:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZCFQm4dQVY&feature=youtube_gdata_player

I think that the best action in such cases would be to cancel the event if it would benefit any side directly because in that case, that side will be the only winner and the sport as a whole will lose in the long term. However, I do realize that protesters will benefit as well by being exposed to foreign media and definitely government won’t be harsh with them as long as the media is watching.

20

I’m suspecting that if the event proceeds it might be a closed gate race with no spectators.

21

barely worth it – you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference…!

22

I don’t like the dismissive tone of Bernie’s words.

23

OT – James… a quick request. Is it possible to get a “feedback/requests” box on the site that lets us make comments to you? Stuff that doesn’t involve the blog stories? We would understand that you have no obligation to respond or even read them, but sometimes I feel there are great ideas that we can funnel through to you but don’t know how to ask?! 🙂

24

Well over the last three years people have just posted them in comments section of current posts and I respond and/or note them for future.

This site is probably the most interactive out there – that’s where the Fans Forum concept came from – so I’d prefer to keep the interaction in one place

25

James, as you mentioned in an earlier post, BE and FIA are sending mixed signals regarding F1 being political.

Also, in giving the trophies, aren’t the trophie presenter at the end of the race usually princes or something in Bahrain? Wouldn’t that be interepreted as picking a side no matter who presents the trophies?

26

Good point – podium protocol is very strict in F1 and they are very sensitive about messages being sent out via who’s on podium. There was a problem with that in Turkey the first year, as I recall

27

Yes I remember. The organizers were fined if recall correctly.

28

Indeed there was a problem in Turkey which the FIA should have seen coming and avoided.

29

The FIA are sorely out of touch if they think a Formula 1 grand prix is going to heal the rift between the pro-democracy movement and the establishment….

30

I think it should be avoided – at least for this year. Give Bahrain some time to sort it’s own political and social problems out before we try and fix it with a motor race.

Aside from the slightly selfish reason of it generally being an extremely boring GP, it seem like it would also unnecessarily endanger too many peoples lives.

31

Channel 4 News and Newsnight have been reporting the torture of teenage prisoners and the arrest of doctors for treating protesters. If F1 goes there, these sorts of stories will hang over all the coverage. We’d become part of the political battlefield, no matter how secure they make the circuit.

32

And the US are torturing in Guantanamo, shall we call off Austin then? And How about China? And the future race in Russia? All very democratic non-torturing contries, or not?

33

You miss my point. The world’s media have moved on from Guantanamo and engagement with China is generally viewed as a positive way of bringing the light of Capitalist Democracy to the heathens. As for Russia, no-one knows what to think – it is still, technically a democracy.

Anyway, my point is about how the media will cover the race. I guarantee there won’t be a single mention of the event without referencing the associated political strife. Opponents of the regime will want to use the event to raise their profile and they’ll succeed, given the extent of sympathy for the rebels within the world’s media, who have faced major restrictions in reporting from Bahrain.

Indeed, from a public relations standpoint, it’s just mad to stage an event in a country that won’t even let most journalists across the border!

34

Agree with most of the comments here that this is ostensibly not like 12 months ago (when the decision should unequivocally have been to cancel) and is an awkward one.

Game theorists may like to think of my stance as a sequential Nash equilibrium game between Bernie and the teams. Going into the autumn, I’d have advocated not going in 2012. Turkey can pick up this year’s race if you want 20 of them, let’s hope the Bahraini Govt start implementing some of the reforms advocated in the independent report (or some more of them) and that the situation stabilises.

But with Bernie having decided back then to put it on the calendar, I think the teams have got to go along with it and the race should go ahead UNLESS there is a drastic change in the atmosphere. I don’t think we have reached this latter stage yet. However, if some people associated with F1 start getting death threats, or if unrest ramps up in the build up to the race, and Embassies worldwide start strongly discouraging travel then one’s thought do tip back in favour of cancellation.

I think as James says it’s finely poised at the moment, so we’re going to have to see how things develop. I think whatever your view there is sympathy for the teams & media and discomfort about the uncertainty the future holds.

35

Before people chime in with the “as long as F1 is in China – also not a human rights champion – why should the they pull out of Bahrain” argument:

Two wrongs don´t make a right. Perhaps the sport should stay away from all dictatorships. You know, countries that lock up people only trying to exercise free speech.

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