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F1 bosses in show of support for Bahrain GP
Posted By: James Allen  |  28 Mar 2012   |  4:29 pm GMT  |  90 comments

Today at a lunch at the RAC Club in London the organisers of the Bahrain Grand Prix met with Bernie Ecclestone, several leading F1 team principals and journalists to discuss the forthcoming Bahrain Grand Prix.

The message from Bahrain and from the F1 teams was clear: the race is on, despite continuing flare ups of protest in the country and rumours of impending cancellation which have surfaced from time to time during the first two Grands Prix of the season. Many of the people who work in the sport have privately expressed concern about the race taking place.

The Bahrainis however believe that the country is on the road to change and that “the Grand Prix has the power and the potential to be a force for good” meanwhile Ecclestone says he is happy for the sport to be used to play a supportive role in that message.

Among those representing Bahrain were Shaikh Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa of the ruling family and Zayed al Zayani, who is responsible for the race. F1 was represented by Ecclestone, Sir Frank Williams, McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh, Red Bull boss Christian Horner, Mercedes AMG CEO Nick Fry, Pirelli motorsport boss Paul Hembery as well as the FIA’s Communications Director Norman Howell.

The Grand Prix had to be cancelled last year last year after an outbreak of violent protest in February 2011 which led to many deaths and thousands of arrests. 29 largely Shia staff were laid off by the circuit, 25 of whom have since returned to their work, according to Zayed.

A commission of enquiry report issued last November found evidence of human rights abuses and police brutality in dealing with the protests.

The Grand Prix is due to take place in three weeks, following the Chinese Grand Prix and the Baharinis wanted to get the message across today that the security situation is back to normal and that teams, media and fans can be reassured that the event will pass safely and that despite reports of continuing outbreaks of violence, there will be no need for additional security.

“It (the race) will take place and I’m sure it’ll happen without any problems,” Ecclestone told me. “I don’t need any personal security but I’m sure whatever is necessary will be looked after. People that are trying to demonstrate are going to use anything to do with F1. If they did it would be silly because it shows to the rest of the world.

As for whether he is comfortable for F1 to be used as a “force for good” and an symbol of reconciliation, Ecclestone said, “We’d be happy to do whatever. 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.”

“F1 is a sport at the end of the day and we’ve always enjoyed racing in Bahrain,” said Christian Horner. “It’s on the calendar and the FIA and promoters deem it right to hold a race in Bahrain so we will be happy to be there and race.

“We’ve had assurances from the FIA that they are happy (about security arrangements). When you enter the championship, you enter to compete in all the races and we’ll look forward to racing in Bahrain.”

Shaikh Salman and Zayed al Zayani both underlined the economic importance of the event to Bahrain. They said that economic analysts put the economic benefit of the race at $220 million annually to the country and its cancellation last year, they said, had a significant impact on local businesses.

“We’re very excited,” said Shaikh Salman, the CEO of the circuit. “The Grand Prix ties us to the world. Bahrain is such a small country and we get a chance to play on a global scale. And that small country really punches above its weight during that time. As Bahrainis that’s what makes us proud. The Grand Prix plays a huge part in Bahrain, the economic impact everyone benefits from, the taxi drivers, hotels and so on.

“The Grand Prix is a huge event and security measures are part of that. We’ve shown them what we’ve done every year and it hasn’t changed that much.

“We have moved on from what happened and the unfortunate incidents of last year. The Grand Prix coming back says that.”

* You can hear more on this story on the JA on F1 podcast, which will be live on Soundcloud and Itunes later this evening.

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Yes…well…it’s all kind of hypocritical.

Next race will be held in a country where human rights are even cheaper than in Bahrain…but the practical economy – we like cheap things (incl. oil!) – dictates that we must treat human rights violations there like a hippo in the living room: So big that you can’t ignore it but too powerful to do anything about it.

So in reality the issue of human rights boils down to our consumerism: As long as we prefer cheaper goods to ethical goods talk about human rights is all hypocritical “jibba jabba” — We, that is you & me, are as guilty as the rich sheiks, dictators, drug lords or iron-fisted governments: We provide the money, and hence the power, to uphold the machinery of evil.

We do it willingly. No, we even celebrate – post pictures in Facebook, tweet, brag to friends, etc.. about the new fancy gadget or gas guzzling sports car – the opportunity to provide funding to human rights abusing companies & governments!

I wonder what the person who stopped the Tianamen tanks thinks about F1 circus not going to Bahrain because of “few riots”…but gladly going into China, where human rights and freedom of speech are trampled upon by the heavy handed, corrupt government.

So in short, I think F1 should go to Bahrain, China, UAE, India etc.. BECAUSE we already provide the funding and support for the government and human rights violations through our consumer habits.

Doing otherwise would be just too damn hypocritical.


What’s the point of filling in the survey if Ecclestone and his cohorts dismiss the opinions of so many? 60% of people are against the Bahrain GP being run, and I believe that only 24% were in favour of it being run (the remainder were undecided/indifferent), and Ecclestone’s response has been that people and journalists are all wrong, and that all he sees in this matter is a PR challenge. Maybe he’ll take us seriously when he sees the figures after we 60% boycott the race. I will definitely be making other non-F1 plans for that weekend.


Right on Kevin. I’m with you.

Adrian Newey Jnr

Whilst I do not agree with the alleged human rights abuses, I do think that F1 has had a small part in making the rulers affect some change. F1 has brought additional scruitiny from the world’s media. Without the race there, I think it would have potentially received less attention.


Personally I think this is wrong on so many levels, F1 should stay out.


I hope that we not return to Bahrain GP because it is a disgrace to the view of political events. It’s a shame because it was a good race but we must be firm with this country :


Unless there’s a security risk, then I can’t see Bernie pulling the race for the moral high ground. However it’s not a good look when your host country’s military was only 12 months earlier shooting its own citizens protesting in public streets. But then again, where do you draw the line and risk setting yourself a dangerous precedent on taking a political stand?


The most interesting racing at Bahrain will be the engineers and journalists in the mid priced hotels a few miles out from the track dodging and weaving between street protests and tanks.

I’m sure the F1 race will be quite relaxing and sedate after that.


Brazil’s just as bad with safety


Not sure brazil has the population majority rioting in the streets up against a foreign armoured division. Although I know some engineers don’t love the drive into brazil – the main targets in brazil are the wealthy as its crime. In Bahrain, if protest erupts, the target is any westerner or anyone connected to f1. I’m sure any security expert will tell you there’s a huge difference between a high crime area and one engulfed in mass rioting.


I will not watch the race. I will wait to see about the rest of the season.


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.

Oh, Bernie…


This is becoming more politicised by the day. The fact that people are saying imthe F1 race is a force for stability is a red rag to a bull. And when you see Bernie saying “I will have no personal security” well we all know how seriously we should take his off the cuff comments, don’t we?


If it is the security the major concern for everyone, I think it’s safe to say that this is pretty much covered. These protestors are the most peaceful I have ever seen or heard about, and the government will never use its brute force against foreigners. Protesters never use weapons of any kind including a constitutional monarchy that protects their freedom.

However, is what F1 wants is to support this monarchy despite confirmed reports of sentencing doctors for treating peaceful protestors and an independent commission of enquiry invited by the king himself finding human rights abuses and police brutality in dealing with the protests. Do these bosses really want to support a government inviting armed forces from neighboring countries to shut down peaceful protestors with brute force just for money?

I’m lost! I’ve been a formula 1 fan since the 90s and never thought I would come to this point.

PS. Formula 1 has a good fan base in Bahrain, but they are not fortunate enough to be able to attend the expensive race. I’m from the region and able to confirm this.


Correction: in the first paragraph “Protesters never use weapons of any kind including a constitutional monarchy that protects their freedom.” should read “Protesters never use weapons of any kind including knives, and all what they want is a constitutional monarchy that protects their freedom.”


Correction: in the first paragraph “Protesters never use weapons of any kind including a constitutional monarchy that protects their freedom” Should read “Protesters never use weapons of any kind including a constitutional monarchy that protects their freedom … Apart from the numerous fire bombs and other such projectiles which are launched at those trying to keep police.”

The second paragraph should also read “After the leaders of the country invited independent reviews back to review the changes put in place, it has been agreed that the country is improving.”

It is not about supporting this regime for the mistakes it made, but supporting the changes that it is putting in place. Everyone else seems to agree this including the Foreign Commonwealth Office whom has downgraded the threats of the country.

If you are going to give personal opinions on the situation, please report them correctly. I believe that this issue is mostly down to people not looking into both sides of the story.


Well, you are certainly entitled to have your view of things, and I do respect that. However, I can see military forces going from certain countries to Bahrain on a weekly bases (I see them live!).

I don’t think this is the correct place to discuss that, I’m just saying F1 should stay away from politics and not support the government efforts especially when I believe they are doing it for the $$$.


Istanbul GP offers much better spectacle for racing than Borerain GP, not to mention this track here only exists to fill Bernie’s wallet.

This track should be dropped and bring back Turkey!

Stuart Robinson

For James its probably better to say nothing at all – I will not be watching


Bernie should really not be able to speak about the Arab Spring in such dismissive tones. He’s ignorant and he’s allowing his circus to be the first one to roll through Bahrain after its protests. It looks bad and crass because it is. Money makes the decisions nowadays.


For those ‘couch potato’ commentators out there, please don’t comment about what’s happening in Bahrain unless you’ve been there physically and seen the situation with your own eyeballs.

To be clear, i’m not a Bahraini nor do i support either political side in Bahrain.

People complain about safety & security in Bahrain, but what would you say about the rioting in London last year? People were mugged, beaten and hospitalised by rioters who have no political agenda and by far are economically better off than half of the global population. As a non-British resident, i would be more scared to go to London for fear of safety because you don’t know when the locals might decide to go berzerk.

So, why complain about Bahrain? Have you been there lately? Can you feel that your life is at threat?

The only time I wouldn’t watch F1 is if Adolf Hitler was still alive and there was a race in Germany. But please people, don’t equate the current situation in Bahrain as if Hitler was running the country. FOM, FIA and the F1 Teams would not go there if they are not confident, like last year.


Not sure anyone apart from you has mentioned Bahrain being like Nazi era Germany, well done for proving Godwin’s law.

Whilst safety may be an issue for the teams attending, I think most comments here have stressed that the GP itself is being used as a political weapon, as it is very much associated with the Bahraini rulers. It seems fairly legitimate to make a moral judgement on that, even if your knowledge of security in Manama isn’t particularly good, especially as the majority of commentators here will be ‘consuming’ this GP as “couch potatoes” rather than attending.


You missed Jay Jacob’s point entirely, misread or misunderstood what he said, and in doing so proved his point, which is a good one.


OK, I get your view of that. My point was no one had equated it with Nazi era Germany, so it was a bit of a non sequitur.


Jay Jacob said:-

“But please people, don’t equate the current situation in Bahrain as if Hitler was running the country”

Note the word “DON’T” – meaning he is definitely NOT suggesting Bahrain is in any way in any association with Hitler control!

meltwaterfalls said:-

“Not sure anyone apart from you has mentioned Bahrain being like Nazi era Germany”.

Jay never DID mention ‘Bahrain being like Nazi era Germany’! meltwaterfalls did! Sound like total opposites to me.

As for all the rest of it, I tend to agree that this F1 race doesn’t have to be the political focus many are making it to be – just accept it as ‘just another race’ (and I’ll skip all the arguments about Other Countries also having political or human-rights issues, blah blah, that have been talked about in depth here and elsewhere)


Not really sure how I missed the point there.

The point seemed to be we can’t have an opinion on the Bahrain GP going ahead unless we know the situation on the ground in Bahrain.

I said we consume it at a distance, and make a judgement from a distance.

Sorry if I did misunderstand that, but I’m still struggling to see any other way of interpreting it.

Craig in Manila

Am not willing to comment on the politics of it as I’m no expert but I’m confused as to how the F1 management can (apparently) just ignore the position of the British Foreign Office. They have clearly advised against all non-essential travel as well as saying that any UK nationals already in Bahrain should be avoiding any large gatherings or crowds.

One wonders how the Brit-based employees (teams, media, etc etc) feel about going to a Country when their own Government is saying that it aint safe to do so.


Actually that’s not true. The British ambassador in Bahrain says the situation is not dangerous and HM Government supports the race going ahead


Ooops, you are (of course) correct JA. Looks like the travel warning that was loaded in mid Feb was downgraded sometime since then.

Amongst other things, the HM Govt website now only says that westerners should avoid crowds and that there is a general threat of terrorism.


Oops better cancel my trip to London then ;-(


I was wondering, if Bahrain cancels the grand Prix they get fined. If FIA/FOM cancels it what happens?


They keep the money, and say they cancelled it on security reasons as per the contract!


And we happily go to China every year then, so thats ok is it????? anyone ever heard of Tibet and the appalling things they have been doing there for the last 50 odd years!!


“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” – Bernie Ecclestone.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.


If Greece only had a penny for every time a politician, businessman, financier was using the word “democracy” to promote its personal interests around the world…. for start it would not be in debt right now and second it would be able to host its won F1 GP.


The man is everything thats is wrong with the human race.

Craig in Manila


First question that popped into my head was : Which “most places” is he referring to ?



Do you have an opinion about all this that you feel able to share?

It seems to me the opinions we do hear (pro and con) come from voices with a vested interest and so not without their own potential bias.

Possibly a respected commentator, such as yourself, will have seen enough to have an informed view free such biases.


That’s not fair. JA is dependent upon the good will of the F1 establishment to get the access to the people and places that permit him to provide for himself and his family. Assuming he was against the GP in Barain and stated so publicly he would be attacking the integrity of those who make the decisions and as JA is an opinion leader in the F1 world his access all areas passes would be quickly revoked.


That is not true. It really doesn’t work like that, whatever you might think


Yes I’d like to back James up on this. I’ve asked him before and he has given his personal views on the subject, which I appreciate. (And if you missed them then you need to pay better attention to his website and things said there!!) 😉


My apologies if my comment in any way seemed to be getting at you.

There was no intended sub-text to my question. Simply ‘is this GP a good or bad thing?’ and my assumption that you may be in a better position than most to have a balanced opinion.

I understand you may not feel happy to voice your personal thoughts, hence the way I asked.


I have a reply to that. Other websites comment on the negative aspects of holding the race there too, not just when there’s a pro press statement about holding the race. For instance the rebel group released a public letter to the FIA a few weeks back, urging them to reconsider holding the race. I didn’t see that story on this site..

James, the gauntlet has been laid down :o)


Its not the bosses at risk, its the mechanics and the support people who dont matter to Bernie (my opionion of whom would get moderated)

Who is going to keep them secure and/or compensate them for any “incidents”?


I doubt that I will continue to watch the sport, much less maintain an avid interest in it, if the race were to go ahead. Quite disgraceful, in many respects, much less the disregard for the safety of F1 personnel, for it to be going ahead. I have no further need to contribute to such a decrepit sport, my enjoyment and attachment to it having been worn considerably by recent developments.


Even without the rebellion/ uprising or whatever you want to call it, I don’t think F1 has a place in Bahrain! A boring circuit stuck in the desert with no fan base.


Oh it has a fan base, clearly. It’s that handful of elitist sheiks and sultans next to Bernie in the press conference.. That’s about it. Disappointed in the F1 teams on this – surely if any of them standing there were sensitive to what the general public opinion was, it would be them. Their sponsors are marketing directly at us after all.

This is seriously despicable. How will this look to the world in 5 years time? What does this say about F1?


Well, that’s what happens if you give the major teams some stock in F1 rights: they as well become parties that have a lot of money-interest for the race to take place, and if the major teams are showing up then any boycot by one or more minor teams would only become a minor news item… Or, just another smart ‘divide et impera’ move by Mr. E!


Peer pressure?

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