Reflections on a week of controversy

22 Apr

A week after F1 started arriving in the Gulf state of Bahrain, the race has been decided and the teams are packing up and leaving. The race was an absolute cracker, but it has been completely overshadowed by the political storm created by the decision to proceed with the race. Nobody could be sure how the week would pan out, and many will be breathing a sigh of relief that there were no major events which directly affected the F1 paddock.

As I wrote in a previous article, the most controversial Grand Prix week  for many years began with the arrival of some of the F1 journalists: Kevin Eason, Ian Parkes and Byron Young. They decided to go and investigate the situation in Bahrain for themselves (provoking both praise and criticism from many quarters) and began reporting that things were not quite as the F1 paddock had been led to believe by the FIA in whom they had placed their trust. Meanwhile, most of their colleagues, and non-set-up paddock folks were passing the time in the UAE before travelling to Bahrain at the last moment. By the time everyone turned up on Wednesday/Thursday events in Bahrain were starting to make the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

So what has been the effect of Formula 1’s decision to race in Bahrain? These are my thoughts.

The effect on Formula 1

As a fan it has been incredibly frustrating in the build up to this race seeing the team principals and drivers, whom I mostly have a lot of respect for, having to uncomfortably skirt round questions about Bahrain or stick to what I’d frankly term as “PR bullshit”. As much as I would have liked to have seen them speak out, they have rarely strayed off the party line. It is understandable why they stuck to the line that they had placed their trust in the FIA – if all was well then there’d have been no problem, but having seen the effect that the week has had on Force India, and the reports that all was not as they had been led to believe, it ensured the flack was placed well and truly at the doors of the FIA and FOM boss Bernie Ecclestone.

Bernie Ecclestone is renowned for seeing all publicity as good publicity, and has a pretty hefty teflon coating on him but has the controversy of this race managed to stick to the diminutive puppet-master of F1 and left egg on the face of the FIA? Ross Brawn, team principal of Mercedes AMG F1 has called for F1 to reflect on the week and I expect that there will be some difficult questions being asked behind closed doors at FIA HQ on the Place de la Concorde. Given the scale of the PR disaster facing F1 they may want to consider an away-day in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles to reflect. I fear it is inevitable though that nothing will change; there is a moral vacuum at the top of a world driven by money, with those underneath it gagged by commercial pressure and the lure of championship points.

It is only a few hours since the 2012 Bahrain race finished but I am already anticipating that we will be facing further months of controversy when the provisional and final race calendars for 2013 are published.

The results of the Bahrain Grand Prix will stay in my mind for the rest of the season. It is likely to be a tight championship where every point could affect the eventual standings. If the results of Bahrain determine who comes out on top, their glory will be tainted by the controversy of this weekend.

The effect on Bahrain

After months of being overshadowed by events in Syria and Libya, the spotlight has been well and truly back on Bahrain. Protesters have had a huge amount of media coverage, reminding the rest of the world that there are still significant issues in the country. The race was an opportunity to step up the ongoing protests and the plight of a well-respected activist on hunger-strike and the tragic death of a protester on Friday have reignited interest in the country. It remains to be seen if the protests will continue on this scale, and how the authorities will respond after F1 has left the country. The sadly almost inevitable death of hunger-striker Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, whenever it comes, will undoubtedly increase tension, and if the authorities respond with a hard crack-down, the situation could spiral out of control.

It is my sincerest hope that the world media will continue to watch events in Bahrain closely and keep their story in the spotlight. As someone with a strong interest in world news and the Middle East I will be continuing to follow the situation in Bahrain. I hope that other F1 fans won’t forget what we’ve witnessed in the last few days.

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