Bahrain Grand Prix 2012: Should Formula One Go?
Risk is an inherent part of motor racing. It’s something that has left an indelible mark upon the past and once that still makes it mark to this very day. The evolution of safety within this category of sport, especially Formula One, has made such far-reaching improvements that they have escaped the paddock into the realms of reality. From crash tests to carbon fibre, the relentless search to make the car safer has never ceased.
So it has become abundantly clear that the safety is of the highest concern within the confines of a Formula One circuit, and therein lies the very public issue of the moment. The Bahrain Grand Prix is fast approaching on the horizon and echoing the events of last year, there is a strong anti-Formula One sentiment rising from the area.
Last year the race and final round of testing was cancelled, relocating testing to Barcelona and the season opener in Australia. However before that on 17th February two GP2 races were due to be held, but after medical staff that would have been required at the circuit, were told to stay at local hospitals, and the races cancelled. Though the levels of unrest have not reached those levels of violence, the anti-race feeling is hard to ignore and this year the determination to race remains stubbornly similar.
It was one of the more infuriating aspects of the issue from the Formula One side of things, Jean Todt and the FIA took a ‘wait and see’ approach that left the sport looking unprofessional and more concerned with the margins rather than the human element.
It may have looked to the contrary up to now but someone has spoken up, anonymously, which is puzzling considering last year teams and certain drivers were far more vocal about the situation. This time talk has mainly surrounded contingency plans if the race is cancelled, with Bahrain scheduled back to back with China, double tickets have been issued from the east, either straight home, or home via Bahrain.
Quoted in The Guardian a team principal who asked not to be revealed, but assured his views were representative of the paddock said,
“I feel very uncomfortable about going to Bahrain. If I’m brutally frank, the only way they can pull this race off without incident is to have a complete military lockdown there. And I think that would be unacceptable, both for F1 and for Bahrain. But I don’t see any other way they can do it.”
Issuing two sets of tickets is subtle, this ‘leading member’ saying this suggests widespread condemnation of the race which prompts two questions, why do they feel the need to be anonymous? And, why hasn’t anyone else said anything?
“I’ve sent out an email to our legal department to make sure all our employees are covered for acts of terrorism and civil disorder while travelling to, during and coming back from the Bahrain GP.”
This is a stark reminder of what the team members could be facing when they go out there, and regardless of how much anyone loves Formula One it is just a sport. It should never be employed as a political platform, or put itself in a position in which it can be used as such. But with cynical eyes glancing over the hosting fee FOM would receive from the Bahrain Grand Prix organisers, Bernie Ecclestone has had to repeatedly defend his decision to include the race in the calendar.
The FIA retains its cautious stance, expanding on it’s 2011 ‘wait and see’ to ‘constant monitoring’, a statement released by the FIA explained. “The FIA is the guarantor of the safety at the race event and relies, as it does in every other country, on the local authorities to guarantee security. In this respect we have been repeatedly assured by the highest authorities in Bahrain that all security matters are under control.” But we know that nothing can be guaranteed, human rights protesters reiterated that their demonstrations are intended to be nothing but peaceful, they were before the government decided to clear the area they were inhabiting.
Where Mark Webber was one of the few to take a firm position against the race last year, Damon Hill (now a presenter for Sky) has taken a similar line. “It is a very difficult call and my concern is that F1 is perceived to be indifferent, and that would be really damaging for F1.” Hill believes that the race could take place, but only with stringent security controls that would essential silence the protesters, which in turn would see Formula One become political for its own means. “That is the worry for the reputation of the sport; that it is actually taking political sides.“
Formula One has always had connotations of the being a luxury sport for the wealthy, and with political issues, Bahrain’s unelected prime minister is the King’s uncle, tied up with religious differences, the ruling elite are Sunni whereas the vast majority of the country is Shiite, the sport is seen to be closely linked with those in power.
Formula One has once again left it too late to leave the situation unscathed, truthfully Bahrain should never had been scheduled to host a race in 2012 with the scars of 2011 still too raw. Sport should strive to bring people together, but there are chasms too large to simply bridge with a race, a match or a test. When people’s lives are being put at risk for expressing an opinion, it is time to look at Formula One for what it is, a sport and a career, not a vehicle for political change. About time for a boycott.