Bahrain – will anyone blink?

5 Apr

There’s been a flurry of articles from the F1 media today about the ongoing situation in Bahrain. The race is only a fortnight away and as things currently stand, the F1 circus will be rolling in to Manama to race. If you’ve been following my blog then you’ll know that Bahrain is a topic I’ve written about several times, and these are my latest musings.

Hill’s rethink

Earlier in the year it was revealed that Damon Hill had gone to Bahrain on a fact-finding mission with FIA President Jean Todt in order to better understand the situation. On their return, Hill stated that as things stood it was fine for F1 to go to Bahrain. I wrote a blog at the time about these comments, and used several words to describe Hill’s comments: surprising, perplexing and foolish.

In an interview with the Guardian newspaper, Hill has reconsidered his stance on Bahrain stating that “Things are different now. The protests have not abated and may even have become more determined and calculated. It is a worrying state of affairs.” I have a huge amount of respect for Damon Hill, but I stand by the words I used back in January to describe his earlier comments – things aren’t really different from when he visited the country, but there is greater visibility of the ongoing issues compared to what I assume was a government-arranged visit where Hill and Todt will have been shown what the authorities wanted them to see. It certainly seems as if the wool was pulled over their eyes, and Hill wasn’t (at least publicly) cynical enough to see through it.

I’d have liked to have seen Damon Hill make an equally bold statement this week calling for the race to be called off, but he has only urged the FIA to consider the situation carefully. As a pundit working for Sky Sports F1 he will need to choose his words carefully but if he feels more strongly then he should say what he thinks.

If anybody within F1 is going to stick their head above the parapet and call for the race to be cancelled I’d continue to put money on Mark Webber.

The views of others

There have been various comments from across the F1 paddock about Bahrain. Drivers like Michael Schumacher have said they’re happy to race there and aren’t worried about the situation, Eddie Jordan isn’t concerned about safety and nor (obviously) is Bernie Ecclestone. I’m now going to pick a new word to describe all of them: naive (and yes it pains me to say that about Schumi). With tensions heightening the race, the hotels, the media and fans are all at risk.

Speed Channel’s F1 pit lane reporter, Will Buxton, has said that he won’t be staying in the usual media hotel or using the transport laid on for journalists as he’s concerned about it being a target. http://willthef1journo.wordpress.com/ Sensible chap.

F1 teams have been towing the line, stating that they’re happy for the race to go ahead. They are all reported to be making contingency plans for getting  staff and freight back to Europe after China rather than moving on to Bahrain, so there must be some strong hunches out there that the race won’t go ahead as any such contingency won’t be cheap.

Conspicuous in their absence of comments, however, are McLaren. I am sure this has nothing whatsoever to do with them being 30% owned by the Bahraini royal family….

The Bahrain International Circuit and race organisers are naturally continuing to promote the race, announcing today that LMFAO will be performing over the race weekend.

While we wait

Since we’re likely to be waiting a wee while longer to hear if the race will go ahead, you may wish to follow these two accounts to hear the pro-race message coming from Bahrain – always important to see what both sides are saying.

Bahrain International Circuit: @Bah_Int_Circuit

The Bahrain UniF1ed campaign: @uniF1ed

If the race does proceed

I think it goes without saying that if the race doesn’t happen, many will either secretly or not-so-secretly breathe a sigh of relief, and I hope that Bahrain will be evicted from the race calendar until the country is truly stable.

If the race *does* go ahead, I’ll be interested to watch how the teams and drivers conduct themselves in the build up to the race. In Malaysia and Australia, the teams and drivers went about their usual business – e.g. public appearances at shopping malls. None of these are likely in Bahrain as they are an invitation for potential trouble. What will be telling, however is:

  • How early drivers and other key personnel arrive in Bahrain (there’s only a few days between China and the start of the race weekend). Will they stay on in Shanghai for a few days, or have a convenient stop-over in the UAE (or elsewhere) until they need to be at the circuit on the Thursday? The rest of the teams will need to go straight to BIC to set up garages etc.
  • Who accompanies the drivers – if I had to go somewhere a bit volatile for work, I would be very reluctant to take my nearest and dearest with me if their safety would be at risk. Will drivers travel to Bahrain with a minimal bubble e.g. just their staff and not parents/WAGs?

Also telling will be the ease with which F1 journalists and photographers get in to the country. Any sign of trouble and they’ll be the first ones held up at the airport.

Will anyone blink?

All we can do now is wait to see if anyone blinks and calls off the race or refuses to participate.

I suspect if the race is called off it will be a last-minute, shambolic affair, potentially with some personnel already in the country.

I can only hope that nobody is harmed, and that cynics like myself are proved to be wrong.

 

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2 Responses to “Bahrain – will anyone blink?”

  1. Clyde Seamore April 5, 2012 at 7:50 pm #

    A really excellent and thought provoking blog, from one of the best new writers/bloggers on the F1 scene.

    Having worked extensively in the Middle East and had first hand experiences of the politics and human rights ‘issues’ in a number of the countries in the region, it is of no surprise to see people divided over whether to hold the race at all.

    The cynical amongst them (and I’m included in this) will see this purely about Bernie and him not losing money (up to £40m if he calls it off), while at the same time giving legitimacy to a ruling family which is inflicting intolerable suffering against anyone who dares to speak up, or act against it.

    As Schuvettelainen says, Damon Hill has popped his head above the parapet as reported in The Guardian – http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2012/apr/04/f1-bahrain-grand-prix , but given his potential conflict of interest it is a fairly weak willed message.

    The Boston Globe today go further and it is clear the majority and those with sense, do not want F1 and all it brings in Bahrain at this time – http://www.boston.com/news/world/middleeast/articles/2012/04/05/formula_one_becomes_part_of_bahrain_power_struggle/

    Because the F1 “project” is owned by members of the ruling family (who are in the Sunni minority in Bahrain), it is seen as a target for protesters and while the King will continue to say everyone will be safe, this can not be guaranteed.

    Many of the regimes/ruling families in the Middle East are questionable to say the least and while Bahrain and Syria make the headlines, Saudi Arabia, Oman and to some degree the UAE are all guilty of similar ‘crimes’.

    With Bahrain also continuously delaying or refusing entry to UN Human Rights inspectors too, there can only be one option and that is to not hold the race. For once in life there are more important things than F1!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Bahrain, Bahrain, Bahrain……. when will it end…….. « Not Just Alex's View…….. - April 9, 2012

    […] Schuvettelainen – “Bahrain – Will anyone blink?” […]

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