April 20, 2012
One of the most controversial and questionable decisions in Formula 1 this season and possibly for seasons to come is the FIA’s decision to go to Bahrain and race. For the last 14 months, the people of Bahrain have been protesting against its regime, as part of the Arab Spring uprisings. The protests meant the race last season was called off. However, despite an air of uncertainty from some teams in FOTA, Ecclestone was confident that the race would go ahead. After Ecclestone staged a meeting with the team principals in Shanghai on Friday, it was confirmed that the race is still on. Furthermore, FOTA felt it was not their authority to say whether or not they wanted to race, as they are contracted by the FIA to race, and left it in the FIA’s hands.
However, Bahraini protestors are less than happy with the decision to hold the race. In an open letter to members of the Formula 1 community, they politely ask them not to race on Sunday, but then promise that “violence will be their only language” if they choose to race. And unfortunately, members of the Force India team were caught in the midst of the crossfire on Thursday. They weren’t targeted by protestors, but anybody could be caught in the crossfire, which could mean serious injury or fatality, something which has happened far too many times already.
But was the FIA’s decision to go to Bahrain correct? Several sources inside Bahrain report that it isn’t as bad as it looks on the news, and will not pose a major threat to security. On the other hand, much like the Force India team, team personnel, drivers and fans could be caught in the crossfire of a violent protest. Of course, violence, protesting and rioting can break out anywhere, which can then compromise the security of anyone in close proximity. Whether it’s in Bahrain or Barnet, when violence breaks out, everybody’s security is threatened.
Of course, the teams can afford to heighten the security around their drivers and personnel, with McLaren promising “SAS style” security for their two drivers. Furthermore, Nabeel Rajab, leader of the nation's opposition Centre for Human Rights group has assured teams and fans that nobody travelling to the Grand Prix is in danger of being attacked. However, as we’ve already seen with Force India, they may not be in danger of being targeted, but they may be caught up in an attack. And this may leave personnel feeling endangered, as Force India mechanics have asked to go home after being caught up in the attack, and the team pulled out of FP2 to get to their hotel before dark.
The decision to go to Bahrain most likely had a monetary factor; as you may or may not know, money makes the Formula 1 world turn, and Bernie has to keep the sponsors happy if he wants the money to continue rolling in. Furthermore, hosting a Grand Prix costs a lot of money for all involved; the race organisers, FOM, the teams and the fans. Cancelling a second consecutive Grand Prix in Bahrain at such short notice may have ended the sport’s presence in the country, losing vital fans, sponsors and viewers.
Nobody will be able to comment on whether Bernie was right or wrong on the matter until the teams are packed up and ready to go home, hopefully without further incident. Naturally, track security is going to be tight, meaning the threat of a trackside attack will be very slim. But as soon as the teams and fans are outside of the track premises, they’re going to be very vulnerable to targeted attacks and being caught in the crossfire. However, many people in Bahrain say that the situation isn’t as bad as reported, and the news will only cover the major events in the country, rather than a lazy Saturday in Sakhir.
Personally speaking, the FIA made the right decision to go. Wherever Formula 1 travels, there’s always going to be a threat of danger, some of the world’s most highly paid sportspeople compete in F1, and attacking them would mean severe publicity for the group/individual involved. Once again, there is the danger of being innocently caught in the crossfire, but that can happen to anyone where there is violent protest.