Bahrain

19 Jan

Damon Hill has hit the F1 headlines twice this week, firstly for his new role as a pundit for Sky Sports F1, and secondly with his comments about the 2012 Bahrain GP. Like most, I hadn’t been aware that Hill had been on a fact-finding mission to Bahrain with FIA President Jean Todt.

Hill was strongly outspoken in 2011, calling for last year’s race to be cancelled, so for him to be speaking out in favour of the race in 2012 is definitely surprising. For the FIA, Bernie Ecclestone and the Bahraini government, Hill’s comments will come as a welcome relief, but to me they are simply perplexing for two reasons:

Firstly, the race weekend is still three months away (20-22 April). Three months is a long time in the world of political uprisings. To be saying so strongly that the race should go ahead when anything could happen between now and then is frankly rather foolish.

Secondly, they are completely at odds with the calls of the Bahraini protesters. It appears that the majority do not want the race to go ahead as there is still violence towards anyone appearing to oppose the regime.

A UN report published in November 2011 showed that there was still widespread abuse, and things had not changed. Since this report was published, the King of Bahrain has been making very public gestures towards those connected to the race e.g. the re-hiring of circuit workers who were fired and imprisoned last year. These steps come as part of a wider public commitment to reform. The protesters, however, do not accept these gestures and deny that there is any dialogue occurring to address tensions. Details of the current situation in Bahrain can be read here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-16594326.

When asked at the end of last season if F1 would be returning to Bahrain in 2012, Bernie Ecclestone was adamant that it would ‘unless something terrible happens’. Last year a ‘day of rage’ was planned for race day, which would have placed all those at the circuit in danger as well as resulting in inevitable bloodshed for the protesters.The FIA are taking a serious risk by speaking out so far ahead of the race to say that the race should go ahead. It is extremely likely that another massive protest will be planned for 20-22 April, and the F1 paddock will again face the same dilemma about whether the race should go ahead.

Red Bull and Ferrari have both publicly stated that they trust the FIA to make the correct judgement. It will be interesting to see whether other teams are prepared to nail their colours to the FIA door in light of Hill and Todt’s mission report or whether any team or driver will raise concerns. RBR’s outspoken Aussie would most likely be the first driver to speak out about any concerns he may have.

Fan reaction to whether the race should go ahead is more reassuring. A recent poll by @GridF1 revealed that 32% thought the race should go ahead; 67% said it should not go ahead and 1% were unsure. I firmly fall in to the ‘No’ camp.

We now face a waiting game for the 2012 Bahrain GP. Will there be a return to violence if the promised reforms do not deliver change quickly? Will the protesters target the race? The Bahraini uprising has stalled, and is in need of a catalyst if it is to successfully bring down the Government. As with last year, F1 is at risk of being that catalyst.

Note: Political change and overthrow of governments has been my ‘special subject’ for many years, starting during my history degree. Since then I have continued to study this area in historical and current contexts. I will be continuing to watch the Bahrain situation closely and writing about my observations.

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