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Trouble on the ground in Bahrain
Posted By: James Allen  |  01 Apr 2012   |  1:45 pm GMT  |  146 comments

Updated – After the messages of reassurance from Bahrain GP organisers this week and the show of the support from the F1 bosses and teams, events on the ground in the country this weekend have raised further questions about what might happen over the next three weeks as we count down to the scheduled race date of April 22nd.

Protests this weekend saw a fatality as local militia shot dead a man who, according to a Reuters report quoting the man’s cousin, was “taking pictures of a demonstration when what he described as “militia members” in an unmarked car opened fire on him.”

Protests are happening almost every day, according to reports, often ending in violence. On Sunday two small protests took place in Shia villages, specifically targetted at the Grand Prix, calling on the authorities to cancel the event.

More worryingly for the image of F1, on Saturday a protester throwing missiles at the police was seen to be wearing the iconic Prancing Horse logo of Ferrari on his back, showing the uncomfortable mix of sporting icons and political struggle, which gives fuel to those who argue that the sport has no business mixing itself with the politics of the country at a difficult time. Ecclestone told me this week that he has no problem with F1 being used by the country’s rulers to send out a message that the country is moving forwards, the race being positioned as “a force for good”,

“We’d be happy to do whatever,” he said. “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.”

Meanwhile it has also been emerged in the German media that the teams have a back up plan to get personnel and freight back to Europe from Shanghai via Dubai in the event that the situation escalates to such a degree that it is considered safer to call the race off at short notice. It is the belief of many within the F1 community that this will happen, at some point during the Chinese GP weekend. McLaren personnel are privately particularly concerned as the team is half owned by the investment arm of the Bahraini ruling family.

However that was far from the message from Ecclestone, the event’s organisers and the team principals who attended last week’s lunch at the RAC Club in London, making for a confusing picture just three weeks before personnel are due to arrive in Manama.

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[mod] I think that F1 teams probably don’t really know where are they going.

But don’t worry F1, if there is any “troublemaker” (as some idi*t said in other comment) claiming for a bit of justice, he will be shot down so that F1 can happily race their cars.

Why risk in a race that could be tainted in human blood? Its well beyond me…

I’m an F1 fan, but I find any type of support for repressive and abusive governments is simply unacceptable.


I think that this articulates the fear of many who work in the sport..


I really hope the race is on and something bad happens. Unfortunately this seems the only way that attention is paid to what is going on there!!!


Not real good for eh person or people it would happen too, me thinks they would not agree with you. Easier to cancel the race and maybe save a life or two or XXX


I’m afraid that if cancelled it will not be to save any human lifes but just for the sake of F1’s image… While my previous comment was intentionaly provocative, the real point I am trying to make is: Why do we only learn about what’s going on in Bahrain only in relation to a damn F1 race?!

Mike from Medellin, Colombia

Bahrain is a small country and it seems that political unrest is being magnified beyond its actual impact.

Political unrest is widespread across Europe and the US. You only have to look at OWS, Occupy London, Occupy LA etc. Protesters were mistreated by the authorities’ attempts to stifle them.

I would like to ask everyone who is on their political and moral high horses, should the FIA maintain a list of countries that should be blacklisted?


F1 shouldnt care about Bahrain. There is political unrest, why not let them sort it any way they freaking want. Just get the race out of there, is being used on the government interests and it might be used by the protesters if they ever get near F1 personel which should be easy.

Go mind your own business F1… Please stop embarassing everybody with dumb decisions.


Unfortunately, the ultimate decision will be a commercial one and politics will be secondary to that. At some point it should be remembered that F1 is supposed to be the pinnacle of motorsport and not just a money making machine for Bernie, who has already got more money than he knows what to do with even with the help of his of daughters frittering it away as hard as they can!


One troublemaker gets killed and suddenly every F1 team member or journalist is at risk if they go to Bahrain? Pur-lease. The situation is now nothing like it was 12 months ago and the teams ought to remember that they’re there to race first and foremost.


Out of interest James, do F1 personnel read you blog often? It’d be interesting to see what the likes of Martin Whitmarsh, Brundle and Boullier had to say on the matter.

Ofc to the camera’s they need to say the good old ‘we’ll be there if it’s deemed safe’ but I imagine there are backstage discussions about it regularly.


good point. it also annoys me that a number of sites like the bbc for instance seem blind to reality and only publish the “everything is fine in bahrain” stories. without being specific to any site can you comment on why this happens james?


someone above posted a link to a small documentary about it, but basically over the past year the Bahrain governemtn has paid some companies A LOT of money to reguarly search websites for anti-bahrain comments. Any time an article about what’s going on in Bahrain is published, it is forced to be removed immediately.


I don’t think they do. I think if anything people are more sceptical than supportive


James, if the race does in fact go ahead but you have some concerns on safety would you consider not going or would the BBC still expect you to fly out

Nelson, Bahrain

As has been said, everyone needs to listen a bit more to people who are actually in Bahrain before jumping on their high horses.

I’ve been in Bahrain throughout most of the last year, and I’m continually astonished by how it’s covered in the western media. It seems to me that Bahrain has a few “activists” for whom the ends (overthrow of the government) justify the means (violence, crippling the economy – eg through calling off the F1, and exaggerating/lying to the media).

They seem to be incapable of any acknowledgement of other people/groups/interests, or of any self-criticism… everything is the fault of “the regime”, which is to be given no credit at all when it does something positive.

Amazingly, the western media just accepts what these “activists” have to say without question. No attempt to see what their agenda might be, check on their claims (some of which have been obviously wrong), or even if they actually speak for the people they claim to represent. Shamefully, the British media seem particularly bad on this – it seems Bahrain is now irredeemably bad, and anyone or anything connected with it must be attacked.

Bahrain is much much more complicated than the “brutal government vs oppressed people” stereotype in the media, but there seems to be no effort made to try and understand that.

Feb-March last year was scary – a spiral towards anarchy it felt at the time. No doubt, order had to be restored, and no doubt the police went far too far on many occasions. But the “protestors” weren’t always angels either, and to be fair the government was the one that commissioned the independent report, and it has promised to pay compensation and put policemen on trial.

Recent experience is that the vast majority of the violence is coming from the “protestors” – 2 police cars gutted by petrol bombs this morning, for example. Yes, there are issues about how much teargas, and when, the police use, but if there were less riots, there’d be less teargas. It also seems the police are now routinely videoing almost everything, which has already busted a couple of the claims put out by the “activists”.

Will the F1 go ahead? I hope so, for the sake of the many thousands who depend on it economically, and who have nothing to do with the “protestors” or their “activists”. I have no doubt that the antis will be doing their damndest to try and provoke confrontation and violence as well as burning tyres etc etc. Although it will be contained, they hope it will enable them to bleat about their “victimisation” to the gullible western media.

Sadly, as we live in a quite “lively” area from a protests point of view, my family and I will probably spend the F1 weekend at home, to avoid the inevitable disruption.


Thanks Nelson, it is always nice to get different views of the story, especially one that is not so widely reported and closer to the crux of the issues.

It lead me to think about why I am keen for the event not to go forward. Mostly I do not see the benefit in the sport being used for immediate political means (by both sides). Also there are obvious security concerns, I’m not able to make a judgement on these, but I can understand that the people involved in the race (such as our wonderful host Mr Allen) are worried about this.

But I also think it can be attributed to a way of showing my displeasure at the way in which F1 is run. It has never been an endeavour that could be described as being a “sport of the people” and there has always been vast amounts of money dictating its agenda.

However, it doesn’t mean that I necessarily like seeing the circus trot into another playground of plutocrats, Circling Tilke tracks with all the soul of airport departure lounges and a percentage of every contract being funnelled into a holding company for Bernie.

Perhaps it is unfortunate for the innocent people of Bahrain that I feel this is a justifiable way of airing frustrations.

Whatever the outcome of the events, I hope you are your family stay safe over weekend.


If the teams are concerned about their safety they should not go to Bahrain or when they are already there if it is dangerous they should leave. May be the F1 GP could be good for the people of Bahrain as whatever problems they are having they are being brought to our attention because some people think the race shouldn’t happen. F1 goes to China and there doesn’t seem to be too many complaining about that. Also, F1 went to Turkey and its record for human rights abuse isn’t exactly brilliant. Also, remember the USA is not exactly the best place for human rights. I’m not saying it is okay to race in Bahrain by the way.


This is a worrying sign! Can’t see what F1 has to gain by going there. It seems like Bernie and F1 management are merely hoping for the best and that nothing will happen. Because if it does, F1 management will then have to live with the consequences of their decision to go ahead and adverse publicity.

James – common sense has to prevail here??


james, couldnt 100 or so protestors peacefully buy tickets for sunday and then cause a riot on live television? it is surely possible


I doubt it. They’ll have that covered, but there’s sure to be some action around the city and surrounding villages.


A shame we are discusing on the posibility of a riot during the GP. Think about it Bernie


Oh no, not again…

Looks like we’ll have 2 more weeks of tension, before we know for sure if the race is a go or not.

Personally I am divided on this issue. Part of me still thinks (as I already wrote on this site some time before) that F1 shouldn’t react to the unhappy masses, leaving the issue handling to Bahrain government (wishfully in a lawful and peaceful manner).

But in the light of new developments my other part thinks that holding race in a violence-torn country (if the situation deteriorate any further) is a nonsense. In that case I wonder what the reaction will be (from all parties involved) if the race goes ahead and in the middle of the race something bad happens on track or somewhere nearby (like flare launches, shooting, crowds on track… anything). Won’t the damage to the image of F1 be too severe? And how will anyone be able to justify going there… they won’t be able to say something like: “Mr.X promised us there won’t be any troubles, so we went…”. Heads will roll.

So, to sum it up, if the situation gets any worse (and there’s a huge possibility of that), then I think Bernie will be in the first place who calls the race off.


Bahrain Grand Prix in Portimão – that’s what I’m saying.


I know that Bahrain does not seem safe at the moment with this apperant shooting and the talk off security escort for rest off the team members. The question i have is how safe is it in Brazil – were kidnappings and shootings take place all the time.

If this is a case off not going to bahrain due to political protest, then fair enough. But if it is a case of not going due to security concerns for fans & team memebers, then i beleive Brazil is an evan more dangerious place.


If Brazil’s kidnapping cadre decided to make a concerted effort to hit the Grand Prix and use it as a grand announcement of their aims – and openly suggest they will target the Formula One race and it’s interests – then yes, Brazil should be boycotted.

As it’s been said before – for security personnel there is a notable difference between a high crime environment and one of massive social unrest. That’s not a political viewpoint – it’s merely a tactical one on the ground. Witness the difference between a personal protection agent in Brazil (which most drivers and high profile team members received last time) and the ring of armoured vehicles and troops required to maintain civil order in Bahrain during the original uprising.

There is a difference between an armed bodyguard/driver – and a phalanx of troops in assault vehicles.


It is a farce and should not be on at all.

Bernie does not care, all he cares about is the money, the place is not a democracy at all.

Just wait if just one person from the F1 Teams gets injured or whatever, all hell will break loose.

Cancel it now!


So China is a democracy?


Bernie will just let it run it’s course. If there is violence or a crackdown he will simply say what he said last year – the country is responsible for hosting a safe GP if they felt it couldn’t be done they should have said so. Besides it was the FIA and the teams who agreed to go etc etc – Bernie is never to blame.

He may be able to adopt the ‘I’m a doddering 80 year old who has no idea about these things’ but he’s shrewder than any politician and will not allow any come back on himself.

Just watch – if it’s cancelled it will be either Bahrain calling it off or the teams claiming the insurance has fallen through – if it goes ahead and there’s violence – it will be bahrains fault for bad security and the teams fault for agreeing. Bernie is just a guy who makes a suggestion. He never seems to have made a decision – merely suggestions. He’ll live to 100 because he gives death the slip!


..and if the race went ahead succesfully, will you come back here and apologise for what you said?


It is a disgrace the way F1 (Bernie in particular) try to justify this race & even seek to legitimise a government involved in torturing their own citizens. If the Bahrain govt are so desperate for F1 then they must adhere to international stds on human rights first. Love F1 but no way should this race go ahead.


I work with Bahrain nationals for an airline and have been told for the past year that F1 should not go to Bahrain as violence occurs frequently against small groups of people just enjoying themselves, this is not reported in the media. Have sense guys call it off now.


Dear James,

Even last year it was rumored that Bahrain GP organizer had paid the circuit fee to F1. Due to the non-event, was that refunded? love some clarity on that issue.

There have been issues in bahrain, as the citizen had been protesting for lack of employment opportunity. But i think there is a prestige issue at stake given the desire of Saudi Arabia to minimize the influence of Iran in Bahrain. So the race could go thru, under a heavy posse of guards and security.

SK Anand


There’s news teams booked their flights from China to UK. So looks like Bahrain might not happen. Anyway Bahrain circuit is a bore isn’t it?


The organisers claim brisk sales of tickets for this event, yet there has been no promotional activity anywhere in the region for the Bahrain GP – unlike the November Abu Dhabi race which is already being advertised with tickets selling fast. Looks to me like even the organisers recognise there are high chances the event won’t happen so aren’t even talking it up locally. Friends who’ve been to Bahrain for business or social reasons recently complain of big problems getting around the country and major traffic delays when protests flare up – these are just on ‘ordinary days’.

The authorities there will face a major dilema on race weekend; if the protesters really ramp things up do the police launch a full and likely bloody crackdown under the watchful eyes of the worlds tv crews, or do they let it pass with all the possible ramifications of delays and problems for the race itself? Or, will they more likely try a pre-emptive raid on restive areas and kettle everyone there until the race is over, which will also likely become well publicised and therefore have a tarnishing effect on the F1 community?

Whatever way you look at the scenarios its not going to be pretty and frankly because of that the whole thing should just be postponed for another year, as otherwise F1 is going to become embroiled in someone elses very ugly mess.


Hopefully if they don’t go ahead this year( I hope it doesn’t)

That this will end in it being dropped permantly.


I’ve a sneaking feeling Bernie would be quite happy for it to end in tears and then have the Bahrain race dropped altogether. He gets a much better bit of press from the Abu Dhabi race ‘down the road’ and, apart from the questionable circuit layout, that race gets a warm thumbs up from teams and fans alike. Bahrain has been a bore to watch and there has been little pleasure in travelling there to watch it live. They’ve also put it on too late in the year given the high temps in this region. Don’t let the Qatari’s fool you with all that World Cup in July nonsense. It’ll be up to 40degC in Bahrain later this month. Not the sort of temps I’d want to either be driving an F1 car or even sitting out watching one!


Interesting point, that last one. I remember the first on on 4/4/04 – I went out trackside and it was 41 degrees.


Goodness, at 41 degrees that’s more than hot, it’s dangerous. I’ve experienced 41 with just a t-shirt and shorts, it’s like hell.


It’s a very dry heat, so not uncomfortable, but the sun is intense


“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.”

More democratic than where? Congo?

Killing civilians and doctors ain’t a way to let people speak what they want.

Bernie is thinking of deepening his already very deep pockets, not the safety of teams and personnels.

Put Bernie in the middle of the city where there are gun fires everywhere, see what’d he say.


This doesn’t reflect poorly on F1 as much as it reflects poorly on greater ‘Western’ and ‘Eastern’ civilization: we have been doing deals with regimes and dictators for years and no politician or head of business cares as long as everyone is seeing their pack pocket fill with money.

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