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Uncomfortable reaction to F1 decision to press on with Bahrain GP
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Posted By: James Allen  |  14 Apr 2012   |  3:10 am GMT  |  109 comments

Yesterday’s robust announcement from the F1 authorities and teams that the Bahrain Grand Prix will go ahead appears to have galvanised opposition and provoked a reaction on the streets of the Gulf state.

A planned funeral march for Ahmed Ismail, a protestor who was shot by security forces last week, turned violent while there were strong words of condemnation from human rights groups and activists in the country.

A report by AP for the American ABC network featured the following passage,

‘ “No F1, no F1. … They killed my son in cold blood,” sobbed Ismail’s mother, Makyia Ahmed, who said her son had been a volunteer at previous F1 races.’

This direct connection with F1 and politics – between F1 and life and death is the thing that is most concerning about this situation. Risk assessments indicate that F1 personnel are unlikely to face any personal security risks, but it is the reputational damage for the sport and its participants which is at risk.

This afternoon a protest is planned outside the British embassy in Bahrain and all eyes will be on how that evolves. This will give an indication of what the F1 circus can expect when it sets foot in the country next week.

It is fanciful to believe that there will be no protests against the race; the crucial question is of scale and seriousness. Will opposition amount to nothing more than a few kids throwing molotov cocktails at police and setting fire to tyres in the road? Or is there a danger of things escalating?

“There’s nothing happening (in Bahrain),” Ecclestone said in Shanghai on Friday. “I know people that live there and it’s all very quiet and peaceful.”

I have two independent sources in the country, who largely agree that the stories of opposition have been greatly exaggerated. Getting an accurate read on the scale of the opposition is very difficult. But it also means that F1 doesn’t really know what it will face next week. It could be minimal, or it could shock them out of complacency. No-one really knows.

This uncertainty weighs on many people working in F1.

I spoke to Ecclestone yesterday as well as to several team principals. The noon meeting at which Ecclestone briefed them on Bahrain also covered other subjects and according to Christian Horner, Bahrain was only a ‘brief’ item on the agenda.

The teams did not oppose the decision to race next week, according to Horner and they have accepted the FIA’s assessment of the situation. Interestingly this extends to not having any contingency plans for getting staff out of the country should protests escalate when the teams are on the ground in Bahrain next week. This is odd because F1 teams tend to plan ‘worst case scenarios’ in most situations.

“We haven’t developed that much to be honest,” said Lotus F1 boss Eric Boullier. “We believe it will be a normal weekend. We just need to make sure that everyone is safe and happy.

“We are happy to go and race in Bahrain. We just make sure that the safety is respected for all our people, no special issue.”

The list of media organisations choosing not to attend the race is small, but growing. Sky Germany joined Finnish and Japanese TV in planning to call the race from their home base and several journalists plan to do likewise.

They say a week is a long time in politics; this situation is highly political and clearly it’s going to be a very long week indeed.

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1

I am +1 NOT WATCHING THE BAHRAIN GP

Although Schumi had me losing interest during his ‘7-star’ haul,F1’s been one of my few obsessions since 1988. For me it has become the only form of motorsport worth sacrificing the health of our planet for.

I hope you can sense that I LOVE FORMULA ONE.I will really struggle to uphold my boycott this weekend (I am setting the recorder as we speak) but to know that I WILL TRY not to watch the GP should show you how much respect you’ve sacrificed this time Bernie. Really?..you couldn’t a f f o r d to let this one go? (rhetorical)

2

But it did happen. The car bomb near the (Force India) F1 crew.

It is a fact now. F1 is a catalyst to violence. Get the hell out of there!! Both you James & F1 …

My advice for Sunday if the race does go ahead. Cancel the podium celebrations. No podium = no gathering of a crowd. I am not watching this. Instead I’ll be relying on your site.

3
the B.E advocate

This will probably attract some flak, but i guess someone has to play the devil’s advocate.

1. professional sport/entertainment has a lot if not almost everything to do with politics and money. we all consume it. It is made for us to enjoy, wouldn’t exist without a market, therefore we are all to blame if you really want to point fingers. Has that much changed since the games in the roman arenas?

2. would you really expect a multi billion industry (other than F1) to stop just because you’re uneasy about this kind of moral dilemma? How far will you go and who should be the judge? In F1 Alone, Should we cancel the Australian GP because it disturbs the black swans in the lake and some of the residents of the neighbouring suburbs or just the brazillian and Indian GP on account of the poverty in their slums? What about japan and their whaling, china and their hunger for dirty coal and Tibet, etc. Did you know that they still execute people in Singapore (be it for things like drug trafficking, still, are we all for the death penalty to drug mules?)

3. is your country of origin free of all human rights issues or support to countries/regimes that have issues of one kind or the other?

4. where does the petrol in your car come from? and most of your electronics, clothing and whatnot? Would you stop using/consuming those if they came from ethically problematic countries? How much of the economic market in your country is attached one way or the other with countries like Bahrain? Its good enough for your bank/credit union/investment company but not to F1?

5. how many of you live under a democratic government? What have you done democratically besides commenting on this website and maybe promising to boycott F1 to help resolve the problems in Bahrain? Have you contacted your representative in the government to push for a quick resolution to the problem in Bahrain; Syria; Iraq; Egypt; Sudan; Ethiopia; etc… do you know what the problem is? Do you have the answer? If you do, have you told your democratic representative in the government yet? Just before you contact him/her, count the number of successful ‘western democratic’ interventions in countries like Bahrain. its a very round number in my opinion.

6. Or could it just be because B.E is making shedloads of money off it that makes it suddenly so wrong? This might get me the most flak but i like B.E. he deserves every euro/dollar/pound/ he made and will make. He is one of the best business people of our period. i think that without him F1 wouldn’t have been as popular, successful, entertaining, educating (millions of people in the world will hear of a place called Bahrain and the poor people of the country only wanting democracy and peace but being oppressed by the evil oil king and his lust for fast? red cars), intelligent, highly diversified and multicultural, and most of all profitable and stable enough to sustain and provide income and a dream job to thousands of people around the world

To sum up i say let the games continue, let us all eat and drink and be merry, he who lives in a house made of glass etc,

at the end of the day it’s only a bit more than one weekend and its only a car race, i doubt it’ll change much in the grand scheme of things

4

After that long complexed speel I bet you feel silly now! read today’s news on Bahrain???

5
the B.E advocate

it was a very good race, i think its going to be a very good season, and i don’t feel silly about my comments. in two, three weeks time at most, this whole thing will blow away. The F1 circus will move on, the people of Bahrain will keep fighting with each other- only without that much media coverage, and the people who love to hate B.E will find something else to be riled up about- he will probably give them something new that’s worth biting into- the majority of those will probably forget about Bahrain and its people’s human rights and their fight for “freedom”. Which paradoxically might be a good thing : no F1 circus- non news item- no media coverage- no good doers, well wishers, and couch supporters – less reasons for violence. It Might not solve the core problem (i am not sure how many people actually know what the problem is or have even a partial solution to it) but i doubt violent protests in front of / for the world media are better.

6
the B.E advocate

no, not really. but it’s a bit lenghty to explain this, the race will start soon and i don’t want to miss it. maybe after the race we’ll be a bit wiser. i might still end up feeling silly- i’ll keep you posted either way

7
ROBERTO MARQUEZ

Well said ,I agree completely

8

James, you have to go bahrain, ’cause of contract obligations, etc, etc, etc…

But if you could choose, would you?

9

I think the most telling part for me on this subject was on the interview with Jake Humphrey on the BBC coverage this morning. I believe his words when asked about Bahrain were, “I don’t actually know what’s happening out there, but…(etc)”

Now, forgive me for being a bit uncharitable, but surely that’s not a good position to be in less than a week before the race is due to start? No wonder F1’s reputation is seen as being in the firing line.

10

Probably nothing, but if you are not on the side of the government, it plays well with the revolutionary opposition, and provides a narrative that gives the young man’s death a deep religious and revolutionary meaning. Martyrdom is a powerful rallying call for would-be revolutionaries.

11

What does F1 have to do with her son being killed?

12

Also James really do hope that you answer my question about how it feels to be a sporting journalist reporting on such a political issue. But understand if you want to wait for after the event. I am just curious to see and hear your take on it, clearly your bond to follow the sport where to goes, Bernie holds a race on the moon you’d have to be there. Your job which you do brilliantly on the site is to talk about the sport presenting the facts, topics of interest and views of those inside for us the readers to form our own views and points of interest. But it is about sport not politics that I am sure that you signed up for. While there have been scandals and deaths relating to the sport that is the key point they relate to the sport ie Senna dying he was a driver, Renault caught cheating sometimes teams bend or brakes rules in sport. So to hear your views as best you can (I don’t you shall be launching into an anti BBC rant :P) would be highly interesting about how you feel about talking about the event? like I earlier SKY and BBC face a tough call on what their content will be in build up. Brundle has it easy as the cars will be racing round but what are EJ, DC and Jake going to present in BBC’s opening?

13

One hopes the race goes off without any issues but I would hope that wouldn’t because of a small army of guards with guns hanging around the race track and rather people simply wanting to go see and enjoy a motor racing event. While I do not think it will happen as I pray Bernie would see the bad press at its very worse the whole thing could be seen as a modern verison 1972 Summer Olympics where the games went on despite a group of athletes, coaches and officials held hostage in their apartments. Truly a disgusting moment which is shown brilliantly in the documentary, One Day in September.

14

Hello James, I am looking at a Smart Traveller website for Australian travellers. There are 4 ratings a country can get. They are: Exercise normal safety precautions, Exercise a high degree of caution, Reconsider your need to travel, Do not travel. Bahrain is: Reconsider your need to travel. Brazil and India have: Execise a high degree of caution, the rest of the grand prix’s have: Exercise normal safety precautions.

The question everyone in Formula 1 has to ask themselves, ‘Do we really NEED to travel to Bahrain?’ Obviously, Formula 1 needs to travel to Bahrain. What are your thoughts James?

15

I wonder how many people who have said that the race should not happen would attend the race if they were given free tickets and travel?

16
ROBERTO MARQUEZ

In my country if you go to a public hospital you have to take your own syriges, your own antibiothics, your bed shets , the film for an x-ray,etc,etc.Our congress is dominated by the goverment so they approve whatever they want, and if you oppose the people in power you can go to jail forever. The leader is an admirer of the communist murderer Fidel Castro, and he hates everything that has to do with modern countries that practice free enterprise and total liberty.Williams should drop PDVSA sponsorship,its only target is to give poor people in Venezuela “bread and circus “like the romans.Formula 1 is unfortunately inmersed in politics ,we like it or not.

17

Can the drivers not go on strike? The teams do not appear to want to go there from what is ‘leaked’ but are contractually obliged to so have no choice. If all the drivers decided collectively not to go then I doubt the teams would sack all the drivers expecially the Alonsos, Buttons etc. Particularly as a grid full of the reserve drivers next week doesn’t make F1 look good.

18

I have not heard anyone raising concerns on China’s track record on a good number of issues starting with Tibet by any HR group on any form of media lately…!

No one is saying what is/was happening in Bahrain is right but the truce is it does not matter as Bernie gets what he wants and he draw the conclusion that is a GO.

Let’s be frank without F1’s incredible sucess & worldwide audience some of us would possible not even be aware – of the existence of this tiny Gulf Kingdom with a population of circa 1.25 million (compared to China’s 1.3 billion) buffer state between Iran and Saudi Arabia housing a 3500 strong US Navy base – let alone raise our concerns how the fate of “democracy” will turn out on the streets of Manama. Such as the power of media and the misuse of media anything can get out of proportion. Anyone doubting that the race will be a thriller due to the extra tension is welcome to attend in person and see/decide for themselves.

After all F1 is not for the faint hearted and drivers might injure themselves or god forbid even die on a racetrack under our watchful eyes still the show must go on.

19

I remember when a protester got on the track at Silverstone in 2003. That was a rather obscure protest. Something to do with him wanting people to read the Bible. It wasn’t that difficult for him to disrupt the event. They had to bring out the safety car.

The capacity of the circuit is apparently 50,000 and the population is 1.2 million. So in theory 4% of the entire population of the country could be there. I would imagine that the security operation you would need to put on to ensure nothing goes wrong will be quite noticeable to all the journalists that are going there. It’s not going to be fun to be there quite apart from all the moral considerations.

I wish they had found a way to skip it again this year. I also wish Bernie wasn’t the spokesperson on this issue. He is quite entertaining if you are used to him and understand where he is coming from, but I don’t imagine he comes across that well to anyone who is encountering him for the first time. In the BBC interview he claimed he didn’t know what any of the issues were about in Bahrain and then only a short time later claimed he had been in contact with some people in the opposition. …Doh.

20

James, I must take issue with your “Will opposition amount to nothing more than a few kids throwing molotov cocktails at police and setting fire to tyres in the road?”.

In your post on Thursday we had “former Metropolitan Police chief John Yates” saying “trouble consists of a few small protests involving youths”. (Yesterday’s IPCC report concluded that he had shown “poor judgment” with regard to Mr Wallis, so I’m not sure why Jean Todt considered his view worth publishing.)

So are “youths” no longer part of society?

The protesters in Tahrir Square got rid of Mubarak but it was The Shabab – the youth – who protected the protestors.

I’m 62 and was therefore a youth in the 60’s – and it was youth which changed society then.

And I was at the British GP in 2010 and would guess at least 25% of the spectators were under 25. There’ll be empty grandstands in fifteen years time if “youth” is alienated.

Society goes from age 0 to age 100 plus, and every section should be respected. But possibly it’s youth which does, while the rest just watch and talk.

21

not sure what point you are making. My question isn’t about age it’s about the scale of the protest

22

OK, good. It’s a collective media thing I think. Yates’s comment “… protests involving youths” is typical of it – if it’s youths it’s presumed to be hooliganism, not protest. Youths have as much right to protest as anyone – more in a way as they seem to be excluded from so much of society. As so many drivers are young, and in a privileged position, it’d be good to hear some of them speaking out. But I guess contracts etc. forbid.

23

James,

Your usual Driver of the Day vote.

In the Bahrain poll I very much hope that you will include the option of :-

I decided not to watch the race at all.

On the assumption that most F1 fans have integrity I for one would like to see the proportion who select this option.

24

Will do

25

I find it highly ironic that this whole debate about Bahrain is settled in, of all places, China.

Hope I’m wrong, but I strongly believe F1 has made a huge mistake by going to Bahrain. Of course the F1 people are going to be “safe”, but that’s completely missing the point. Why is F1 giving a dictatorship in this situation a platform to “showcase” to the world???

26

My biggest concern is what if we have another Silverstone invasion of 2003. Desperate people do desperate things and this could end up making F1 look bad for all the wrong reasons.

The reason Bahrain is on the calender is because it makes Bernie money. I really do think it is time for this man to step down, he has done a lot of very controversial moves lately.

27

The sport should stand firm – don’t get involved in politics and don’t let politicians involve it in politics. Bahrain has broken that saying it will unify the people. It should be punished accordingly just like Turkey was for the cypriot debacle.

28

What about all the GP2 drivers and team personel and FIA? There are two race weekends in a row in GP2 so they’ll be there for 2 weeks!!

29

First, im a huge f1 fan, love the sport and have interrupted sunday lunches with the family since my pre-teens to catch some f1 on the telly… Oh yeah need sky now, another day…

I’m really disappointed at bernie’s comments though not suprised given the fees and funding from middle east states.

If Bernie were CEO of a ftse 100 or Dow / Nasdaq company, he wouldn’t survive his tenure making those kind of comments. But I’m f1 it seems when bernie says something nobody will disagree. I’ve a huge amount of respect for what he has done for f1, but sometimes it seems greed really does get the better of him.

Make the right decision yes, but don’t be so rude as to pretend nothing happening, that’s really disrespectful and should be below someone that has achieved so much and holds such a high public profile. More the kind of comment to come from mario balotelli!

30

100% Agree.

Bernie, pretty disgusting [mod] to come out and say these comments. The sort that doesn’t believe in a free press him and would much rather the plebs kept in their box.

The drivers should politely decline to any marketing / media responsibilities for the entire weekend. Not a protest. Just out of respect for the obvious bad taste which will surround the race for those with an actual conscience. Arrive, race, get their heads down, get out and forget about it.

31

A mother sobbing “No F1, no F1. … They killed my son in cold blood”, Bernie saying “There’s nothing happening in Bahrain.” How does that fit together???? Boullier gives the answer: “We are happy to go and race in Bahrain. We just make sure that the safety is respected for all OUR people, no special issue.” He’s right, no special issue!!!! And anyway, who knows if ‘opposition amounts to NOTHING MORE than a few kids throwing molotov cocktails at police and setting fire to tyres in the road’

I’ll be watching safely from my home, hoping to get some of these bonus features on top of the usual racing excitement…. Shame on all of us!

32

My concern is that the following week could see a day-by-day increase in public protest, building up to a mass demonstration on Sunday, so that you could effectively have a capital city in open riot next weekend, with a ‘normal’ Grand Prix taking place behind armed guards just a few kilometres away.

And, leaving aside the political situation, for F1 to be associated with scenes of violent protest would be devastating for the sport. Think of the damage caused by cricket and rugby tours going to South Africa under apartheid.

And James, regarding your comment ‘Interestingly this extends to not having any contingency plans for getting staff out of the country should protests escalate when the teams are on the ground in Bahrain next week’

It seems to me they should definitely be thinking something up, otherwise I have an image of rows and rows of F1 team trucks leaving the circuit under armed guard, maybe even on Saturday night, while protestors throw rocks and goodness knows what else at them.

I think Bahrain should be cancelled. And Bernie should be more careful with whom he does deals (and I know about China, Russia, Brazil etc before anyone comments on it)

33

When are they going to announce the Syrian GP? Can’t wait……….

34

Spot on. I can’t imagine the powers that be going to same length to keep a Spa, a Silverstone, or the Ring on the calendar as they are for Bahrain.

35

Just after the Iranian GP I’m told…

36

No I believe Syria has got the jump on Iran. Apparently they’ve already cleared a large area for the track in Homs. It’s rumoured that Tilke can’t wait to get in there and design the circuit in the shape of a giant tank, complete with a three and a half mile straight-hairpin-straight section making up the cannon.

Fears that ticket sales will be low due to recent depopulation in the area have been dismissed by President Asad as a Western-Al Qaeda-Israeli-Iranian conspiracy. Asad’s wife is very much looking forward to the weekend and to meeting Bernie, and has ordered a £10,000 dress online especially.

37

“And while we were on the commercial break, another car was hit by artillery fire at Turn 11. Let’s look at the replay to see if we can see where the debris landed. Remember under the special FIA regulations in place for this race, passing another car with flying debris counts…”

38

Shelling during a race would definitly spice up a Tilke racetrack for sure.

39

shortly before the north korean GP and after the Republic Of Wadiya GP 🙂

40

They need to fit in the Kazahkstan and Belarus Grands Prix as well…

41

Burma is upset at it’s exclusion.

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