F1 Messed up, you have to admit it, as far as I am concerned Formula One made the wrong decision when deciding to go to Bahrain.
Last year, during the so-called “Arab Spring” in which revolution spread across Northern Africa and the Persian Gulf, millions took to the streets to protest against their governments, including in Bahrain. Protests took place in the capital Manama and turned violent when police allegedly used live rounds against protestors. The FIA announced on the 21st February 2011 that they had postponed the Grand Prix – “The Bahrain International Circuit today announced that the Kingdom of Bahrain would withdraw from hosting this year’s F1 grand prix race so that the country can focus on its process of national dialogue,” said a statement after several protestors were killed and hundreds were injured.
The FIA continued to postpone the decision of whether or not they would hold the Grand Prix but eventually decided in October that it would be cancelled indefinitely. So, why was the Grand Prix held this season? Surely not too much can have changed in such a small space of time, police officers still wandered the streets and protests were still rife, civilians were being killed during the protests and the situation had not changed.
So how could the FIA deem the race safe? If they were willing to overlook the fact that it was highly immoral, then surely they would realise that it would be very dangerous for drivers, team-members and international journalists covering the Grand Prix. Subsequently you have to ask yourself was the driving factor money?
A sport such as F1 has 600 million spectators per race, bringing such a circus to a country in such distress, as Bahrain would be an incredibly awful thing to do. It would endorse the government’s actions and undermine the deaths of all the civilians killed in Bahrain. Was Bernie concerned over the potential loss of revenue that would occur if they abandoned the race, or did the FIA truly decide that it was a suitable race to hold? Obviously not everybody did and according to reports, a Williams employee who refused to go to Bahrain on moral grounds was fired. Then a leading team principal, who wished to remain nameless, came forward to confirm that none of the teams felt comfortable going to Bahrain and that they would prefer if the race were cancelled.
Even if the FIA did think it was the right decision, they should have listened to the fans! If you asked F1 fans, you would have been hard pressed to find a fan that did want the race to go ahead and did not think it was the wrong decision.
To move on to the safety element, on the Wednesday night before the Grand Prix, four Force India mechanics were involved in an incident involving a thrown petrol bomb, while on the way back from the track. They were stopped in traffic when protestors became involved with an altercation with police; a petrol bomb was then thrown. Even though the Force India team members were not the intended target, it was enough for two of the mechanics to leave Bahrain the following day. During Friday’s second Free Practice session, Force India did not run their cars, as they wanted to be back at the hotel before nightfall. The following day, twelve Sauber mechanics witnessed another firebomb incident; the mechanics were travelling back from the track when the incident occurred.
“At 20.50 the 12 mechanics, being on that minibus to the Novotel, noticed fire on the medial strip of the highway,” said spokesperson Hanspeter Brack. “On the opposite lane there was no traffic. The team members saw a few masked people running from there over to their lane where a bottle was burning as well.” No one was hurt.
On the day of the Grand Prix, a Channel 4 crew were travelling from the track to a small demonstration. The crew were spotted by Police and were then chased, the driver, a Bahraini man, pulled the car over before police severely assaulted him and took him away. The Channel 4 crew and their guide, Dr. Ala’a Shehabi, a prominent human rights activist, were then taken to a prison and the crew were deported the following morning. Dr. Ala’a Shehabi and the Bahraini driver who had been feared dead were also released.
At least nobody was killed, right? Wrong. Just one week before the Grand Prix, A twenty-two year old protestor was shot and later died. Then on Saturday, while the F1 circus was in Bahrain supporting the government and saying nothing was wrong in Bahrain, 37-year-old Salah Abbas Habib was also fatally wounded; the blame for this murder was pinned on the Police by the Government’s opposition.
However, what is done is done; the F1 circus has been and gone, the damage done. Nevertheless, the question remains, what will happen next year? Surely if two protestors can be killed in the space of a week and a half, it is surely too much to ask country to introduce widespread reform in little over a year. Will the FIA again decide that it is suitable to hold a race, despite widespread belief that this is the wrong decision? To be honest, I do not know – all I know is that F1 has messed up. Bernie Ecclestone needs to hold up his hands and say ‘We were wrong and it won’t happen again’. If the country has settled down by next year, and I sincerely hope it will have, then I will be happy to see a Grand Prix there, but if it hasn’t, I do hope that the FIA realise that holding a race there is wrong.