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Todt speaks out at last on Bahrain
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Posted By: James Allen  |  21 Apr 2012   |  7:26 pm GMT  |  79 comments

FIA president Jean Todt has carefully avoided making public comment on the security and political situation around this year’s Bahrain Grand Prix, leaving most of the talking to Bernie Ecclestone. However today he broke his silence to speak to the BBC and said that, despite widespread protests and a security scare for Force India mechanics, there had been no compelling reason to call the race off.

There was, he said, “nothing (that) could allow us to stop the race. On rational facts, it was decided there was no reason to change our mind.”

An activist has been found dead in the garden of a private house in Manama today. The 37 year old, named as Salah Abbas Habib, was apparently dressed as a protester, with distinctive clothing and markings, had what appeared to be a gunshot wound in his side and an autopsy is taking place this afternoon. How he came to be shot and whether it had anything to do with Friday’s mass protest in Manama is not known.

Asked about the death, Todt said

“We know protests can have a negative result. We are a governing body running sport, you can have lots of protests and there can be consequences, and I am not sure the protests would not have happened if the Grand Prix would not have happened.”

There will be a long debate after this event about whether it should have happened, what damage it may have done to the image of the sport and to the FIA and also regarding what to do about the future; it’s very clear that the Sunni/Shia problem at the heart of the protests is not going to be solved before next year. So we will have to go through the whole thing again if and when Bahrain appears on the 2013 calendar.

Perhaps next year the opposition will be more organised, based on the learnings of this year’s race. Or conversely, perhaps their leadership will take the view that the Grand Prix taking place has actually given them enormous global media exposure for their plight, the like of which they could not possibly have achieved in any other way and so has been a ‘force for good’ in that respect for them. Certainly it appears to have done more for their cause than for the ruling regime, which has seen its country portrayed across the world as both violent and dysfunctional.

One obvious own goal has been the decision to allow the F1 brand to be used on the “UniF1ed” poster campaign for the race, a clear political use of the brand, which the FIA rules would appear not to allow and which contradicts all statements about sport and politics not mixing. As does the messaging of Bahrain being “back on track”. Asked about this by the BBC’s Jake Humphrey, Todt swerved the question,

“It can be a lot of interpretation,” he said. “I understand, in the UK, some opposition parties are against running the grand prix, if you take the comments of the actual prime minister he feels things are moving in the right direction.

“We as a governing body had no reasons not to have the grand prix happening in Bahrain. If we had a new vote today to the world council, I am convinced there is no new evidence that would make the decision (to hold it) different.”

Meanwhile AMG Mercedes boss Ross Brawn has called for a proper internal discussion between teams, rights holders and the FIA on the race and what happens going forward.

‘After this event we need to sit down and discuss it,” he said. “We are committed to this race, we are having a race, and after the race with proper judgement of what happened and what we saw, we need to come to a conclusion.”

Read the whole BBC interview with Jean Todt HERE

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1

http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/99121

Oh PLEASE!

The media has no responsibility to F1. It has a responsibility to the truth, to its readers and viewers, and to ideals such as human rights, democracy, etc. F1 needs to re-examine itself if it thinks, as the richest, most capitalist sport on earth, that it isn’t ‘political’. It allowed itself to be made directly political by the Bahrain regime. We’re all now UniF1ied. This fan will no longer give F1 money after this, and most especially the reaction from within F1. Pathetic.

2

We all know this is about money and nothing else. Why the hell arent we going to Istanbul this year- one of the best circuits with a strong global following.

Regardless of the reasons would Bernie or FIA have gone to any other event if there was even the slightest risk to anyones life and have the f1 brand tainted or damaged as judging from the comments here alone – it has .. Wake up people this is disgraceful anyway you look at it. Then to exclude force india just highlighted what a joke the FIA is becoming. Perhaps some of the drivers nerves werent evident in the racing..but in interviews it sure as hell didnt look hunky-doory to me.

3

The whole thing is farcical. Personally i do not believe sport should be used for political reasons, even one as big as F1. But if we´re going to bang on about human rights violations then we shouldn´t be racing in China, Turkey or the USA either. If teams are to avoid races on safety grounds then there´s no way they´d be going to Brazil either. And if teams are to avoid races because certain countries are full of shady business types then Russia and Monaco should also be off the list.

4
Adrian Newey Jnr

I think the commentary needs to be measured (as it has been on this blog). Remember it wasn’t that long ago that Britain was facing its own riots to the point where the Police basically lost control of one of the world’s preeminent cities. Yet there was no call for the Olympics to be cancelled.

5

Bahrain—does not have any easy answer. It is presently a dictatorship. But the Middle-East does not need another Islamist Republic; as the Iranians are trying to establish in Bahrain with Sharia law which hates women. Why were the protestors not protesting the recent pro-golf match…? There are those in Egypt who are beginning to think that perhaps Mubarak wasn’t so bad after all. The new regime is imprisoning, torturing, & killing the Coptic Christians. In the early 1950s, when we still lived in Holland, Michigan, I remember prayer services for our missionaries, the Nykirks, because of the civil unrest & danger (I added snakes) in Kuwait & Bahrain. But prayer still opens doors. 🙂

6

Guys, get real. People are killed, murdered raped and pillaged during sporting events constantly, Olympics, tennis matches, soccer etc.

Why is this person dying at the feet of anyone involved in F1 all they did was continue with a sporting event?

In our country we could have a splinter group of maori’s create trouble, England had “disaffected Youth’ australia has Aborigine’s etc. America has anti abortionists, animal rights activists and on and on. EVERY country has a minority group that if it wanted to could stir trouble, should the organisers stop EVERY event due to potential protest and discontent?

That being the case we would never see any sport or events, due to all sorts of “demonstrations” or activity related to the media spotlight being temporarily on thier country.

I think F1 did the right thing by carrying on.

Although I am very dispaointed in the overtly political banners and believe the organisers should recieve a hefty fine or something.

7

James, one thing I don’t understand…why are the title sponsors not exerting some influence? At least it’s something I’ve not heard mentioned over the last few days. Money talks in F1 and it would surely make the teams (and Bernie et al) sit up and take notice if they rebelled. Surely at least SOME of them are aghast at their blue-chip brands being associated with this situation?!??

8

Money talks!

I feel sorry for those who protest because for us Europeans, any form of non-violent protest is accepted (please correct me if I’m wrong). I feel lucky to live in a more humane country.

May God have mercy on these people and may the various Muslim factions (not only in Bahrain) learn to live with each other.

I hope we won’t have a similar backdrop to an F1 GP.

9

Hi James,

Michael made a very interesting comment about Pirreli tyres. Basically, his argument is that, the tyres do not allow any driver to go flat out at any point of the race. So in other words, the sport has became all about tyre management than driving fast.

What do you make of that?

Now, before everybody jump on me, please consider this. I am a fan of him but if there is any chance of him winning the title it’s a situation like this. He simply cannot out-drive the likes of Alonso or Vettel or even Rosberg at his age as his reaction times are not getting faster. So the point is that I don’t think he is saying this in order to particularly benefit him.May be he does have a point there. F1 should be more about driving on the limit. It’s a good show from spectator perspective but if guys like Lewis cannot go flat out, Aryton Senna would be turning in his grave.

10

I know. Very interesting that he said that. The tyres are making everyone scratch their heads, but it’s good because it’s mixing things up

11

Sickened by the second death over the race weekend, I decided not to watch the race on TV. Maybe a futile gesture with no measurable impact, but I didn’t want to particpate – in even the smallest indirect way – in the event.

I understand (but do not share) Ecclestone’s desire to keep earning money, but why has the FIA allowed itself to involve the ‘sport’ in this political mess?

Definitely a mistake.

12

The race was interesting and the track seemed to be a proper racing track.

That’s all that counts.

Human rights…well…take China for example: They only matter if it is *convenient* that they matter.

13

The whole thing somehow reminded me of South-Africa dilemma few decades ago. That F1 races in Baharain and sticks to the idea that they are just into sports and not politics is a bit laughable. The reason why they race there is that there is no big pressure from the western media / public not to do so. And after all Bahraini roylas practically own half of McLaren. Only hippies and artists would sing in this situation “We ain’t gonna play in Sun City”

14

James, remember the FIA did fine Turkey in 2006 for their attempt at using F1 for politics:

“As part of the podium ceremony after the 2006 race, the winner’s trophy was presented by Mehmet Ali Talat, who was introduced to television viewers via the captions as the president of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a state which is recognised only by Turkey. The FIA announced they would be investigating this incident, as a possible breach of the organisation’s political neutrality. The identity of the person who would present the winner’s trophy was left to the last minute, leaving the FIA no time to veto the choice. Some commentators feared this incident could jeopardise the future of the Turkish Grand Prix, and possibly also Turkey’s round of the World Rally Championship, another FIA-sanctioned series.[3] It was concluded with a 5 million dollar fine,[4] which was later reduced by half.[5]”

uniF1ied and “back on track” is exactly the same. The FIA are not upholding the mandate.

15

I do smile when people speak about F1 as a sport.

It’s been acknowledged for some years, that apart from the 2 hours of the actual race, the rest of the time it is big business.

Look at all the corporations involved within this arena.

Years ago, Benetton was notorious for their advertising campaigns, using dying people to sell a product.

I remember in F1 magazines, journalists and the public were outraged, but it didn’t stop, because ultimately the company knew that any publicity is good publicity.

What about Ferrari and it’s continued use of Marlboro bar code branding, long after tobacco sponsorship had been banned. Even to this day, Marlboro is the largest sponsor in F1.

I smoke, I support Ferrari, yet I find this an absolute disgrace.

PC madness? Maybe. We seem more controlled in what we can and can’t do daily. The argument about sponsorship encouraging people to smoke was always ridiculous, but these are the laws as they stand.

Don’t the Bahraini fund the Manchester City experiment? Yet no-one mentions that in any negative reporting.

I have strong opinions about the world I live in, but the powers that be will do whatever they choose.

Let’s be completely honest, Brawn may say they will get together and discuss this, but that’s just public posturing.

We all know that by the time the teams return to Europe, Bahrain will be consigned to history. It will only become a problem when we are weeks from returning in 2013.

It reminds me of Monza 2001, when Schumacher and a few of the drivers decided they didn’t want to race for the first lap because of the design of the chicanes and the previous year a marshall had been killed.

Villeneuve, a free thinker and maverick, said he would race as normal. His point about they had had a year to sort this out and it was unreasonable to expect the circuit or FIA to change anything over race weekend.

As for the British politicians who speak out against this…

16

Your blog strikes exactly the right tone James – measured and revealing without being judgemental or sensationalist. Genuinely great journalism.

17

Thanks. It’s been important this week to :
1. Say it as you see it
2. Take in all points of view
3. Keep a sense of perspective

18

Bahrain scored an own goal, clearly using the race as a political tool. Bernie and Todt now have an excuse to get rid of the race for next year if they choose to. The cynic in me however thinks that the banners in question were approved by them earlier and no action will be taken.

19

Personally I’m with Ross Brawn in saying it’s no good asking for the race to be cancelled when the whole F1 circus has arrived because it’s too late. The whole question should have been raised well before this, and all that can be done now is to discuss it after to decide on the future. There are human rights issues in other countries, China for example, but the whole thing is suppressed there. Gradual reform is always better than revolution so I’m hopeful that Bahrain can sort it’s problems out. As to the moral question facing F1 it should be remembered that it is a business as well as a sport, it has to be, and so decision making has to take into account the massive investment required. On balance I agree with the notion the protests intrinsicly have nothing to do with F1, except the protesters have decided to step up the anti this weekend, but in reality F1 being there has benefitted them by giving them worldwide exposure which otherwise they would not have had.

20

Has anybody posting in their objections here taken time to understand the background behind these disturbances? Those who have will understand that there are real similarities between this and the Northern Ireland situation several years ago with Suni and Shiite religions at the core of the disturbances and with Iran strongly backing and fuelling the Shiite protesters. It aint going to be fixed by just bringing down a government (which is how some simpleton reporters see it). John Lennons lyrics to Imagine have never been so beautiful.

21

I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of the whole situation, but it occurs to me that Todt should have spoken up weeks ago.

22

Own goal for Bahrain Government and F1.

I say if people fighting for democracy get this type of publicity, and the powers that be are willing to take this kind of negative publicity, then sport should be allowed to go where it wants.

I suspect though that Bernie will learn his lessons and F1 wont ever allow itself to get involved in situations like this again.

A man has died though, and that is shameful, F1s name will be tarnished, I just hope he didnt die in vain.

If next year he situation is the same as it was a month ago you can be certain the race would be called off.

Bernie wanted the money, no doubt, but he certainly didnt expect this although it wasnt difficult to predict. The people of Bahrain are giving him what he is being paid for, and I dont think there are many who will say he doesnt deserve it.

23

Using global sporting events to highlight political messages is nothing new, remember the Munich Olympics and the slaughter of the Israeli atheletes? And the Nazi version pre-war? Are we not to hold the 2012 London Olympics because the people who rioted last summer might think it would be a good idea to have a repeat this year? And don’t think for a minute some enlightened soul hasn’t got dreams about using the event for a set piece demonstration of violence.

I hate what I am seeing this weekend and do not like to see the sport I have loved for over 50 years used like this but until Bernie has gone nothing will change. The PERSUIT of money is the root of all evil and having more money than you could spend in one life and chasing after more is pointless, especially at Bernie’s age. I suppose Prost was right ” at the end it’s just keeping score”

My enthusiasm for F1 this weekend is at the level as when Clarke or Rind died no enthusiasm at all. Ironically Keke said it all years ago ” if Bernie says drive we drive” if I remember well that was about a track in Dallas that was breaking up. But the danger there was to the drivers and marshals.

24

James Allen. I have a question. What about Mclaren and the Barhain royal family owning 50 percent of the team?

Surley the success Mclaren has is bought with the same blood money that funds this contentious F1 race.

What is your opinion JA?

25

Interesting point, but Mclaren isn’t a tool of the Bahrain Royal Family.

26

I was being a bit cheeky.

I was actually for the race going ahead and against all the protesting. I think F1 is a commercial sport.

My point was that everyone complains about the Bahrain race cause it is owned by the Bahrain royals why not complain/boycott/booo Mclaren because they are owned and funded by the same people.

I think people are only support protests like this one cause its trendy and easy to type a few rousing words in a couple of seconds.

27

I remembered the following from an earlier post here (FIA sends out message that Bahrain is safe):

“Todt has today issued a letter from former Metropolitan Police chief John Yates, who was heading the security operation at the London 2012 Olympics and is now on a short term contract with the Bahraini Government on a security brief, following the BICI enquiry into last year’s uprising. The letter is intended to show that the FIA’s assessment is that it will be safe for F1 to race in Bahrain next week.

Yates, who has been living in Bahrain since January, says that the situation on the ground in Bahrain is not as is being portrayed in the media and that trouble consists of a few small protests involving youths and that there is no security risk to F1 teams and personnel. What he calls “the real picture of life in Bahrain” is being distorted by the opposition messaging and this is leading to an inaccurate picture being portrayed in the media and to the teams. A report by Lotus following a recce last week also found the situation relatively normal, but the teams’ fear is that once the F1 circus sets up at Sakhir, things could quickly escalate.

Yates’s letter says the protests are from a “very small minority – often groups of 15-20 young men. These are criminal acts being perpetrated against an unarmed police force who, in the face of such attacks, are acting with remarkable restraint.”

Now I’m hearing from the BBC that tens of thousands are protesting. We’ve had at least two men shot dead by security forces. That’s not what I’d call restraint. Sounds like John Yates doesn’t have the faintest idea what’s really going on.

The FIA used to take deaths related to F1 very seriously but these two have been completely dismissed.

This is making headline news around the world, bringing the sport into disrepute.

It all calls Mr. Todt’s judgement into question. It seems to me he is being wilfully blind to the enormous harm that this event was inevitably going to cause.

Exactly how much money has F1 received from Bahrain? Because I want to how much all this madness is supposedly worth.

28

Aren’t they the the most expensive on the calendar at $40m with Monaco the cheapest at zilch. But you allude to something else methinks.

Like the premium paid to Ecclestone to guarantee the race was actually run this year, could be in the $100’s of millions?

Wonder what the exchange rate is with the 30-pieces Judas got.

29

Excellent post but it does seem a bit UK orientated – but then maybe that’s just selective editing.

I watched qualifying on German RTL (as one does when not wishing to pay any money to the Murdochs) with commentary from yourself and Alguersuari who I think makes an excellent number two! On their F1 programme RTL had pictures of the protests which Sky UK apparently didn’t.

During a later bit of channel hopping with my motorised satellite dish, bought for the purpose of depriving the Murdochs, I saw Turkish news featuring both the GP and the protests together, likewise somewhere around the Black Sea (could have been Ukraine or Bulgaria or Azerbaijan or Georgia or Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan), and also what I think is a “world service” aimed at Nepal by Thailand or South Korea who were linking the protests and F1.

So I hope Jean Todt and the FIA realise they have shot themselves in the foot not just in the UK but worldwide.

I agree with you that the protesters probably can’t wait until they have the assembled media there again next year. And I suspect the arrogance of the Crown Prince et al means they also can’t wait to do it all again.

And having seen the grandstands in the background today I would also expect tickets to be free next year – and maybe subsidised flights too. They looked about as full as a Formula Ford day at Snetterton.

30

Apologies to Jaime Alguesari for spelling his name wrongly. But excellent insights on the commentary team none the less.

31

Coronwen, you were right first time with the spelling of Jaime Alguersuari’s name!

32

Thanks Backmarker. I thought I was and then I googled it and “reputable” sites had it the other way! Just shows the internet can’t be trusted. Whatever, if you’re UK based and you listen to JA on 5 Live, I hope you agree with me that he’s giving DC a run for his money as a truly up-to-date pundit. (Although I’m sure he’d really be much happier out there driving.)

33

The blood spilt throughout this weekend lays at the feet of Todt and Ecclesrone.

This sport exists for excitement and entertainment nothing else.

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