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Spotlight intensifies on Bahrain GP
Posted By: James Allen  |  06 Apr 2012   |  12:11 am GMT  |  95 comments

[Updated 9 April] “No one will enjoy the F1 in Bahrain with cries for freedom from the inside and outside of the race,” a protester in Manama told Associated Press today, as activists turned up the pressure on the Grand Prix, due to take place on April 22nd, to be called off. Protests have started to focus on the race itself with anti-F1 slogans and imagery graffitied on walls.

On April 8th, according to the Financial Times, a group of youth activists called ‘February 14th Youth Coalition’, said “it would not be able to “ensure the safety” of Formula 1 participants amid popular anger that would be triggered by the race going ahead.”

Meanwhile in the UK, former BRDC president and F1 world champion Damon Hill has retracted comments he made over Christmas about the race being a force for reunification of the country. Today, speaking to the UK national press, he has suggested that the race could cause more problems than it seeks to solve.

“It would be a bad state of affairs, and bad for Formula One, to be seen to be enforcing martial law in order to hold the race,” said Hill. “That is not what this sport should be about. Looking at it today you’d have to say that [the race] could be creating more problems than it’s solving.”

Meanwhile people on the ground in Bahrain insist that the normal Bahrainis are saddened by the events unfolding in their country, where protesters fight running battles with security forces on a daily basis and where a protester was shot at the weekend. The man on the street there is not bothered about the Grand Prix taking place either way while those in favour of the race, for its economic benefit to the country, see the politicisation of the anti-lobby growing stronger,

“It’s got political and I fear it won’t happen now, it’s really sad,” is the latest message from a contact of this website who is based over there.

According to AP, an activist called Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who is in prison following his part in last year’s uprising, has been on hunger strike for more than 50 days. This situation provides a very uncomfortable backdrop for F1 teams to be arriving in the country and doing press conferences where drivers will be challenged for their views on the man’s plight and on what they are doing there.

Meanwhile prominent British diplomats quoted in the local press in the region, say that the race should take place and lay the blame for dissent at the door of the media, for “always looking for the negative.”

The UK Foreign Office however, says that there are no travel restrictions to the country, travellers are advised to “avoid crowds” and gives details of eight planned protests taking place over a three day period.

“We also expect other protests and disruption in various areas of Bahrain to continue through the coming days. As a result, we continue to advise British nationals in Bahrain to maintain a high level of security awareness and to exercise caution, particularly in public places and on the roads, and to avoid large crowds,” reads the travel advisory on the Foreign Office website.

And Bahrain International Circuit chief Zayed Alzayani went on BBC Radio 4 to restate the case for the race to take place, “It is very sad what has happened; but we cannot go back and change history, we have to learn from it and move on,” he told BBC Radio 4. “I think the grand prix is required for Bahrain because we need to get started back on track. The country has suffered, the economy has suffered.”

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I’m from Bahrain and I think it would be a real shame if the race didn’t take place. Half the country is made up of expatriates who don’t have a say in the political direction of this country. Our businesses are being crippled by a group of thugs who don’t know what they want anymore. I am pro-reform and last year, was happy that dissent was being vocalized. Since then though, all the opposition does is target civilians. They blow up gas cylinders, burn tires, pour oil on the highway and set fire to it hoping we all crash into each other as we bring our cars to a screeching halt. The funny thing about this so-called opposition is that they don’t really believe in listening to or hearing what other citizens and residents of this country have to say. They are a misguided minority looking for an Islamicized Bahrain open only to Shias. Life still goes on and I don’t think any of us who live here feel like things can’t be managed without the security forces having to be too heavy-handed. These teenage boys holding the country hostage are ultimately a bunch of cowards.

To give into such infantile and callous behavior by canceling the race sends the wrong message. I want change but not at the cost of people’s livelihoods. We need this race for the message that it sends.

If everyone here is so concerned about human rights violations – how the hell did you let India host a race? A country where hierarchy is rife, where a minority of rich people have made hopeless servants of the poor, where the democratic state is a complete failure, where we have no real judicial system to speak of and where justice is impossible to find. How come none of you spoke out for the obscene labour conditions of those that built the track in India? And the pittance they received as wages??

If you really want to go country by country – then we’d probably never have the F1 race hosted anywhere.


James, please if you have the opportunity on the radio, to mention why is there no attention on China? The brutality there has become routine, so the media no longer care. The double standards the activists and F1 are applying are ridiculous.


Personally I also think that countries where the internal democracy is questionable, there should also be deep questions on whether they should be able to host a race in the future.


I personally don’t think the race should go ahead, but I believe it will. Last year, Bahrain was all over the news on TV, on every channel and every bulletin. I’m open to being corrected but I can’t recall seeing anything about it being mentioned on BBC or Sky news recently. And this is where most people get their news……

For every formula fan who is interested in the behind the scenes politics, who reads blogs such as this one and stays up to date with all the to-ing and fro-ing in the F1 world, there are thousands upon thousands who simply turn on the tv on a Sunday afternoon to watch the race.

I have a feeling that its these people whose considerations will be taken into account.


I agree with you about not seeing anything in the news recently about Bahrain. The only mention of Bahrain I have read recently is F1 connected, particulary today where the BBC seem to be pushing the issue, with regards to F1. If Bahrain’s problems aren’t newsworthy enough on their own, why raise it with regards to F1?

I’ve said before that I’m not interested in the other countries politics, otherwise where do you draw the line? You cannot pick and choose.

It’s also reported today that some teams don’t want to go, but they won’t be named.

An interesting question to the teams, sponsers etc. would be – Are you still selling products/trading in Bahrain? I don’t know who actually does trade in Bahrain, probably most if not all. Therefore how can they object?

As a circuit, if it fell off the calendar, I wouldn’t miss it in the slightest.


The idiot who disrupted the Boat Race could easily have been badly injured and drowned had he been hit in the head by a fast travelling blade [and there are many in Britain who wish he had been, but that’s another story!]. If a serious protester in Bahrain is hit by an F1 car, there will be no doubt of the outcome – would you want to be the driver, with this on your mind for ever more? The Thames idiot was a rebel without a good cause, which will not be the case in Bahrain.


Enough is enough. Formula one cannot go back to Bahrain where people are still getting killed for demanding DEMOCRACY. I call on all F1 personnel to do the right thing and boycott Bahrain.


What about the other undemocratic countries in the calendar?

Like UAE, China and to some extent India?

Not forgettin poor ol’ Monaco…


This reminds me somewhat of the 80’s in South Africa with apartheid; sport (cricket) became a pawn in South Africa’s struggles and now F1 has become a pawn in the Bahraini political arena.

F1 needs to take a stand against these regimes and should cancel the race.

Interesting article in the NY Times:

The photo at the bottom of the article shows a group of protesters dressed as F1 drivers holding guns…..great image for our beloved sport.


I read somewhere that Mr Ecclestone “has other commitments, so will be unable to attend” I for one if it is true do not feel that in itself is confidence booster.

James, I fully support you statement of having a contract so I need to go. As a serviceman I have also been put in that position in the past, honour and pride, makes you do it no matter what you personally think about the situation.

I am sure security will be at a maximum and everyone will be as safe as they can be.


Has Mark Webber spoken out about this? Last year, I believe he was the only driver who from the start was forthright in his own opposition, and that was based on principle, not security.


James, you’re a brave man. Not for going to Bahrain, but for posting this.

Thank you for getting people talking about Bahrain.


I wonder what the financial and political fallout would be if the race did not go ahead for those teams or bodies with “close links” to that part of the world…there seems an absolute hell-bent determination that this thing is happening no matter what it takes (for some reason).

Having a cosy PR lunch for the media & then blaming “the media” merely makes F1 people look uncaring, obtuse or simply greedy (or all three).

I wonder how many of them are simply scared of offending those who run F1 by saying what they really think for fear of the potential consequences for their careers? It is totally understandable but still a bit weak and pathetic really…


James, how are the organisers looking after the safety of drivers, team personnel and journalists? Do you not think it would be a good idea for these people to take their own extra security precautions?


Yes, certainly. I think it’s a big concern


An argument (not sure if I’m on board with it):

China, Zhu Yufu sentenced to 7 years in prison last month for writing a poem urging people to support freedom (not the poem’s content should matter). China, a place where young monks set themselves on fire to protest the government’s policies.

Malaysia, opposition leader repeatedly arrested and put on trial for sodomy.

How can anyone say F1 shouldn’t go to Bahrain because of the political situation and not say anything when it goes to the above places? Should F1 only go to places Freedom House ranks as ‘free’?

We could probably do without Bernie pretending it’s a democracy though, that was actually sickening.


There have been some pretty tasty protests in Barcelona in the last week too….


My opinion is that F1 should not be going to Bahrain this year or any year. Any regime who imprisons doctors who are treating injured people is not a regime which deserves the media boost and publicity delivered by having the privilege of holding an F1 race.

I can’t believe how you can claim it’s not all that bad and being blown out of proportion, goferet, when there is widespread reporting by all Western media outlets whether neutral, left and right wing of large scale on-going protests and unrest in the country on-going.

I do agree with you with regards to drivers though. They aren’t politicians or statesmen, hell most of them are in the twenties or early thirties, and it isn’t appropriate to ask them about the state of the country. If they wish to volunteer an opinion then that is different – they have chosen to do that, but they shouldn’t be picked on just because they have to attend a press conference.

For James and everyone elses’ sake, if the race does go ahead, I hope the F1 circus is okay. Fingers crossed, the off-field events are as boring and uninteresting as the racing usually is in Bahrain!

Craig @ Manila

Personally, if I had a 20yr old son/daughter who said “Dad, I’m gonna go to Bahrain for a holiday next week”, I’d be trying to talk him/her out of it as, based on what I know and (more importantly) what I don’t know, I wouldn’t be comfortable with them going there.

To me, this hypothetical tells me that I also think that F1 should not be going there.

Unsafe until proven to be safe.


Great so a 3 week break followed by a 4 week break, and to think the fantastic Istanbul circuit has been axed. Id rather have a boring race than no race. Why schedule it in the first place, plenty of other countries desperate to host a grand prix.


This is just bad for F1. It’s an event the sport can well do without. It should never have returned to the calendar. There are plenty of preferable locations.

It feels like Bernie is just pushing this through now because he’s Bernie and he’s said it will happen and he MUST NEVER BACK DOWN. If the teams had any brains or any ‘nads they’d have ousted him by now. For all his skills, he’s not irreplaceable. But F1 politics is too deranged for mortal minds to comprehend, so I guess with stuck with another absurd, pointless, politically damaging event.


This raises interesting questions, not necessarily political, but in terms of business, and the FIA.

An observation: Many races have been lost because the organizers/promoters being unable to meet Bernie’s commercial terms (e.g., Indy). The FIA has no problem with this.

Something like this controversy, as with the six car farce at Indy; doesn’t this “bring the sport into disrepute?” If so, does the FIA have recourse against the commercial rights holder? Does the Federation, by which I mean the member clubs, have absolutely no say in how the sport looks to the general public? And if they do, do they care?

In short, is there a line beyond which the actions of the commercial rights holder permit the FIA to revoke or modify the 100 year lease? Typically, a landlord can evict someone for damaging an apartment. Is the FIA powerless to “evict” the commercial rights holding “tenant” under appropriate circumstances?

An interesting question.


1 word: China.

Bahrain is ‘easy’ to protest against as it’s not a major player in economic world.

But the number 1 problem China…Nobody cares, because we want our cheap goods!


And because China could kick all our asses if we make too much of a fuss.


There’s absolutely no reason they should be there this yr with the tension what it is going by the way these extremists work they would not even need to get into the compound to get a “success” in there eyes when it comes to something as high profile and covered as F1.

They (terrorists/extremists) would simply have to do whatever they feel adequate at the gates whether it be a suicide bombing or shooting, mass shooting(s) or drive into a crowd of walking foreign fans etc.

It has been so well covered in the media with the doubts on the F1 taking place this yr in Bahrain its screaming out do something from there point of view for maximum impact!.

And from F1s point of view for what?? why be there 1 race of 20 Absolute madness all things considered, This one needs a serious rethink Bernie your risking tarnishing F1 in a lot more ways than Financially in the long run.


Maybe the drivers should also be challenged for their views of the fate of the Tibetan people, and the myriad human rights abuses commited the Chinese government.


I love F1. It’s supposed to be a sport not a political shouting ground. The teams should be able to concentrate on their job and the race not whether they are going to be kidnapped or worse. So for me, DON’T GO.

John McCormack

Get real . Bahrain is in the middle of a revolution for justice and freedom. I love F1 racing but we should not be surprised that the F1 organizers are content to ignore what is happening on the streets. Money talks. Just remember it was boycotts and exclusion that brought the downfall of apartheid in South Africa and not the disgraceful visits by Rugby and Cricket teams. Bahrain is much more than a F1 venue and a playground for rich Saudis. People are in prison and dying


As Bernie wants the race so badly, I still do not understand why he didn’t twin Bahrain with Abu Dhabi at the end of the season to give it the maximum amount of time to recover.

If it does go ahead in two weeks it will be very telling if Bernie himself is not there.


The FIA or BE should make a decision and just stick to it. Modern media streams make it very easy for voices to be heard whether right or wrong. I’ve no interest in the politics in Bahrain, but any group can get significant instant coverage if they want.

As an example, the BBC and ITV were ‘promoting’ potential fuel shortages at least 24 hours before the government put their foot in it. The BBC and ITV news coverage had already started a rush to the pumps, on what was a non story. The tanker drivers have to give 7 days notice before a strike. A non story that caused alot of people to panic because we are losing the ability to think for ourselves.

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