Start, Bahrain Grand Prix, 2010

How should FOTA react to the Bahrain decision?

2011 Bahrain Grand PrixPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Start, Bahrain Grand Prix, 2010
Start, Bahrain Grand Prix, 2010

The FIA’s decision to reinstate the Bahrain Grand Prix has done more than just hand a propaganda coup to the Bahraini government.

It has also thrown the latter part of the 2011 F1 calendar into disarray and presented a direct challenge to the Formula 1 Teams’ Association to take a stand against Bernie Ecclestone and Jean Todt.

The decision means that, one-third of the way into the season, we know neither how long it will be nor when it will end.

The fresh problems created by the FIA’s ‘solution’ for keeping Bahrain on the calendar also revealed the lengths it and Formula One Group will go to keep cashing cheques from the Al-Khalifas.

The Indian Grand Prix

On the face of it the postponement of the Indian Grand Prix, ostensibly to give the organisers more time to ensure the circuit is complete, is a laudable move, given the difficulties the South Korean race organisers experienced last year.

But by dragging the Indian Grand Prix into the mess, it looks rather more like the FIA and FOM are trying to weaken FOTA’s position.

A key part of their objection to the race was on the grounds of extending an already packed schedule by another week or even longer. FOTA’s opposition on that issue is now aimed at a new and valuable addition to the F1 calendar.

You have to wonder why the Indian Grand Prix organisers were willing to put their race in such a vulnerable position. It’s not hard to imagine they were given little choice in the matter.

A championship in doubt

Putting the jeopardised Bahrain Grand Prix in the place of an existing race, and attempting to add a new round one week or more after the season was supposed to end, is an extraordinary move on the FIA’s part.

Not since 1963 has a world championship round been held in December – and in that year there was half as many races on the calendar.

At a stroke they have created a whole new problem, casting a shadow of uncertainty over the latter portion of the season.

The sudden appearance or disappearance of a race at the end of the year could have an obvious and inevitably controversial effect on the outcome of the championship.

This should have been resolved and put beyond doubt on Friday. Instead the FIA, running true to form, has postponed the decision and not even settled on a date for the Indian round.

All eyes on FOTA

Ahead of the World Motor Sport Council meeting the teams made it emphatically clear to Ecclestone they would not race in Bahrain.

So adamant were they that Autosport reported (in its print edition): “Bahrain’s hopes of holding a Grand Prix in 2011 are set to come to and end this week after it was accepted that security and logistical concerns make the race impossible to run.”

All eyes are now on how FOTA will react to the race’s reinstatement. Will they accept the decision and swallow their concerns about travelling to Bahrain?

As recently as Thursday the British foreign office downgraded its travel advisory on Bahrain, saying it “we no longer advise against all but essential travel to Bahrain”.

However there remains cause for concern over whether the Grand Prix can be held safely in four months’ time. The foreign office’s warning to “exercise caution, particularly in public places and on the roads, and avoid large crowds” does not sound like a suitable environment for an F1 race.

The moral implications of racing in Bahrain are even more troubling and some of the teams’ drivers have admitted so. Mark Webber wrote on his website last week: “As a competitor I do not feel at all comfortable going there to compete in an event when, despite reassurances to the contrary, it seems inevitable that it will cause more tension for the people of that country.”

Inevitably, the decision is seen as a test of the unity of the 11 teams (HRT having left in January).

The most obvious fault line is president Martin Whitmarsh’s connection to the Bahraini royal family, who are part owners of McLaren.

FOTA have promised a “detailed joint position” on Bahrain and invited feedback from fans, which you can send via the email address on their website.

Reading the thousands of comments on the subject posted here since February, and the results of the poll taken in April, it’s clear the majority of F1 fans are against the Bahrain race.

How do you think FOTA should respond to the FIA’s decision? Should they boycott Bahrain? Should they refused to race beyond the original end date for the season? Have your say in the comments.

2011 Bahrain Grand Prix

Image ?é?® Mercedes

233 comments on “How should FOTA react to the Bahrain decision?”

  1. Today, UK Minister of Sport, Hugh Robertson, said:

    “You cannot have a situation where politics overtakes sport,” he told the Telegraph. “If that happens, you have a disaster on your hands.”

    “You can understand why opposition groups might want the race to go ahead if they are planning protests around it and this is a danger.”

  2. i cant put myself in their situation and allow the race to go ahead. the possibility of action by a revolutionary faction wanting to gain some headlines would just be too great for me, and something like that happening would hang over the sport for decades.

  3. Bernie and the FIA have acted appallingly in the last few days. They had plenty of valid non-political excuses to skip the Bahrain GP this season but they didn’t take them. By passing the buck, they have dragged their image to the dirt. They’re acting like a corrupt regime, not caring about what they do because nobody can stop them. It’s up to the teams to make sure they’re not dragged down too, and to show Bernie and the FIA that they can’t get away with such tactics.

  4. I think its really a tough subject for the FOTA and the teams.

    Certainly I would hope the FOTA will be able to speak up, possibly doing so in contention with the GPDA.

    In reality, FOTA opposition to the FIA and FOM will probably focus more on not being able to go along with this late change to the calendar for a. safety reasons and b. making the season go until December and c. having already made provisions for the Indian race in October.

    To me these are just secondary issues, i would welcome the FOTA to oppose the fact that this is the sport being used by the Bahrain government for political reasons and sees F1 supporting wide spread oppression.
    Such a reaction could be based on sentiments inside the teams (Webber, Parr and others), from the sponsors and listening to the fans.
    But I can understand, and maybe even apploud FOTA for sticking to the pragmatic reasons at least openly, if this helps the cause.

    1. They’ll probably have to stick to pragmatic reasons. That’s okay. Money talks in F1 and you don’t want to ruffle too many feathers regardless of the issue at stake, up to a point.

      I’m going to be completely selfish and say FOTA must take a stand because I don’t want to go to Delhi in December :D

  5. I suggest something different…

    – all teams race with their reserve drivers and the real f1 drivers manage the pit wall!!!

    – team boss’ and engineer race and f1 drivers change tyres!!

    This way it is a joke and really boycotted by the teams, but they still race and get the cash, so what can bernie do?

  6. Bernie and Jean certainly have put FOTA on the spot!

    I think FOTA will also delay a definitive response / decision. With Domenicali having voted for, and McLaren being partly owned by the government of Bahrain, they won’t threaten with a boycot or something like that. Maybe they’ll use the fan meetings as leverage?

    The only sensible approach for them for now is to wait and see. See what comes out of the fan-meetings and especially wait and see if the threads for a Day of Rage continue. If so, then the easy way out will be insurance. I cannnot imagine that F1 in Bahrain in its current state is insurable.

    1. I agree it would be hard for McL because of their shareholders. But…

      Here is a list of the people of the WMSC

      It’s the president/vice-presidents of FIA, head of country motorport federation and the president of the FIA Manufacturers’ Commission. The last could be substituted by a Ferrari SpA Representative, but we don’t know whether this was the case last week. Can anyone confirm if the last member was François CORNELIS or Domenicali?

      So please don’t put any blame on Ferrari just yet, what should we say about Mallya of Force India being there and voting for?

      1. I read suggestions (Adam Cooper perhaps?) that although the vote was unanimous, possibly some members abstained from the vote, so maybe neither Domenicali (or other Ferrar representative), nor Mallya voted for, but they also didn’t vote against.

        1. Alan Benson, Reuters.

          Actually no Ferrari representative was there. It was someone from the “FIA manufacturers council”.

          1. Oh, right, thanks. Hm, so was that a FIAT/Mercedes/Renault guy (or Toyota, and they don’t like F1 anymore :-p), guess we won’t know.

          2. here is a link to Wiki about the WMSC, listing who is in it.

          3. @BasCB — I think the list of WMSC members on the wiki page is out of date. The PDF on the FIA site lists the current President of the International Karting Federation (CIK), Shaikh Abdulla bin Isa AL KHALIFA, as the representative, not Nicolas Deschaux. He’s the second son of the present King of Bahrain. Allowing him to vote shows a complete disregard for the accepted rules of corporate governance. Todt is implicit in this travesty.

        2. It is generally accepted as incorrect to describe a vote as “unanimous” if there is one or more abstentions. On this basis both Mallya and Khalifa voted in favour of reinstatement.

          Odd that Mallya supported the change in date for the Indian GP and absolutely wrong that Khalifa did not recurse himself from the vote.

  7. I think one thing to look at in the decision is how far behind schedule is India?

    Given what happened with the Commonwealth games India cannot afford the screw up and at the same time F1 does not want to screw up in India. It does after all contain more than 20% of the worlds population. Such at sake from respects of Indias image as a host of major sporting events that it may have even been supportive of the Bahrain GP.

    Then of course there is Vijay Mallaya. This is a man who purchased an F1 team with the intent of bringing F1 to India, and wants to be seen also as the man who bought F1 to India. He also has the most to gain from the success of F1 in India.

    He also sits on the WMSC…

  8. It’s simple: sport is not and should never be a political tool. It should not be used by Bahrain to promote the country and the government’s practices – but nor should it be used by the motorsport community to “take a stand” against Bahrain. The race should go ahead if and only if the country is in a state where the safety of teams and drivers can be guaranteed.

    1. But of course, that’s unrealistic. Big sports events have been used for a long time to promote countries and policies. A relatively recent example is the Olympic games in China, used by China to show what they could do (as all countries do, even Greece), but also by other governments who hoped it would force China towards a better attitude on human rights.

      Having the Olympics at all is purely a politic statement that humans can compete without being violent! Same goes for international football (sorry Keith) championships.

      Certainly the Bahrain GP was political from its inception.

    2. But since there is no way both can be avoided, the logical conclusion is to cancel the Bahrain Grand Prix. I like your thinking.

      1. Yeah, that last line makes it right.

    3. Completely agree.

      Besides if we believe the nay-sayers, the protesters are “peaceful”, so why wouldn’t F1 be safe?

      1. Well, you either agree with us “naysayers”, in which case you accept that peaceful protestors were attacked by government agents in such a way that the country was deemed unsafe for F1, and if they did again around the race could create safety issues; or you don’t believe us, in which case there are potentially violent anti-government protestors waiting for the race to happen so they can do something dangerous, again threatening the safety of F1 personnel.

        Either way, I wouldn’t be racing to get there early if I worked for an F1 team.

  9. Why does no one accuses Indian GP organizers for support of oppression in Bahrain – seems that they moved they GP to December without any sound at all.

    Wheres the hypocrite white knights?

    1. Sherlock, maybe we just haven’t gotten to it, we don’t have all the information and India might have a lot of reasons (not being ready for one, money pressure from Bernei) to not protest too much.

      Are saying that if we don’t denounce the world for being unfair, we can’t disagree with anything that the powers that be in a certain sport that we tend to follow here decided? Their decision is still wrong, regardless of what others do or do not do wrong.

      1. “Are you saying” sorry.

        1. I’m just pointing out selective application of principles. Thats all.

          GP in Bahrain – serious support to oppressive government
          GP in China – held smoothly no one even blinks

          FIA says that Bahrain GP will be rescheduled – FIA is a incarnation of devil as they accept such a move and are fed by oppressive sheiks of Bahrain
          Indian GP doesn’t say anything on reschedulement – we simply don’t know all the facts (as opposed to any other current F1-related stuff where we know all facts crystal clear)


      2. I do think the Indian GP organisers put out a statement telling how good they were prepared some time ago.

        In it they informed that the event will be supported by Marshalls from Bahrain, I think over a hundred of them.
        Apart from the simple fact, that India might be a bit less prepared than they admit, certainly being reliant on Bahraini Marshalls will do nothing to make them strongly oppose its reinstatement.

  10. FOTA could turn this back onto Bernie by offering the compromise of agreeing to support the running of the Bahraini Grand Prix, provided it’s staged at a neutral (and presumed safe) venue – outside Bahrain. There’s plenty of precedent for a national GP being held outside of that country (e.g. Luxembourg, San Marino), and it’s difficult to see why anyone outside of the Bahraini organisers could object on moral grounds. That just leaves the little matter of the practicalities to overcome.

  11. Good summary Keith. I’ve e-mailed FOTA as follows:
    I wanted to add my voice to the chorus of right-thinking people who believe it would be wrong for the F1 championship to visit Bahrain this year. It would reflect well on FOTA to resist pressure from the FIA and the small number of vested interests who are insisting that the race must happen. All acts and all failures to act/react are political, and tacit support of a regime currently engaged in the violent oppression of its
    people would be a political act of the worst sort that a sporting body can indulge in. Besides this, two grand prix – Brazil and India – are to be disadvantaged for the benefit of one grand prix, the loss of which can be
    accommommodated with no disruption additional to that which has already taken place. Not only are the Brazilian and Indian GPs harmed, but so are people planning to attend the latter, whereas the people who had intended
    to attend Bahrain in March have already been compensated.

    I trust that you will retain the fans’ respect by standing behind your drivers and saying to the FIA, “we will not race at Bahrain in 2011″.
    Not as eloquent as some but maybe if we all do it, FOTA will be encouraged to stand up for themselves, for the Brazilian and Indian fans, and for what appears to be the majority of popular opinion.

    1. FOTA will act in their interests first, last and always.

      1. no doubt, but they may be open to the idea that alienating the fans is not in their interest

        1. +1 exactly.

  12. It’s not like we’re talking about hosting the Bahrain Grand Prix tomorrow. The race is scheduled for the end of October. It’s now the start of June. That means there is still the better part of five months – one hundred and thirty-six days – between now and the race, in which anything can happen. The Tunisian revolution took less than a month to depose Zine el Abidine ben Ali. The revolution in Egypt took just seventeen days from the start of the protests to the outsing of Honsi Mubarak.

    The WMSC’s decision to reinstate the Bahrain Grand Prix is not absolute. If the situation deteriorates, it can be re-cancelled. Likewise, if the situation improves, just about anything could happen. Protestors have allegedly marked October 30 as a new Day of Anger, but since they can’t exactly rest on their laurels for the next five months without losing momentum, it could well be that if some kind of truce is reached and terms agreed to, the Grand Prix could be run as a symbol of a new Bahrain.

    One hundred and thirty-six days. Anything can happen. It was January 21st one hundred and thirty-six days ago; sicne then, a tsunami has hit Japan, Osama bin Laden was killed, Barack Obama made Donald Trump look like a fool, Prince William and Kate Middleton were married, Ratko Mladic was caught, film composer John Barry passed away, Libya finally lost patience with Muammar Qaddafi and a predicted apocalypse didn’t happen. If I told you on january 21st this year that all of that – and more – would happen within the next one hundred and thirty-six days, would you believe me? Of course not. So why is everyone assuming that everything will stay the same between now and October 30th?

    1. You are right that it might not be certain the race takes place. That doesn’t make it a better decision.

      In fact, from the FIA standpoint, I think that makes their decision even worse: a lot of disruption of the calender, quite possibly for no gain at all, creating uncertainty for the competitors, fans, broadcasters, and race organisers.

      In this respect, Keith certainly puts it right mentioning the disappointingly familiar FIA lack of clarity. Exactly the wrong thing for them to do.

    2. Yes, a lot of things can happen. Making me wonder even more, how the FIA can be sure enough about safety.

      Certainly knowing the event will be on people there are going to anticipate this and plan things nicely up front. Including possible demonstrations, disruptions, or even some crazy terrorist actions.

      1. not let it be the tool of these despots

        Better to reinstate the race and cancel it again later if things get out of hand than to reject the reinstatement only to realise later on that the situation improves and the race could have gone ahead.

        1. AdrianMorse
          6th June 2011, 14:50

          I don’t agree. I think it would have been much better to play it safe and determine in the winter whether the 2012 GP can go ahead. Also,
          1. I see no good reason for the GP to go ahead.
          2. Cancellations are not without cost, especially as it involves the Indian GP as well. Exactly how many hotel reservations and flight tickets are F1 fans expected to flush down the toilet?

    3. Yes a lot can happen between now and then, maybe the protest leaders will disappear or emigrate to Jordan, or maybe Al Quaeda will move in and arrange suicide bombers to attend the race.

      1. Al Quaeda will move in and arrange suicide bombers to attend the race.

        Al’Qaeda won’t do that because their ideologies do not line up with those of the protesters. They don’t fight for liberation and democracy and the safety of puppies – they want a hardline fundamentalist Islamic state.

        1. And how do you start a “hardline fundamentalist Islamic state”? Maybe by toppling the regime that’s currently in power?

          That’s precisely how many of these previously liberated countries (Iran, Libiya, Syria etc) got their repressive regimes in the first place.

          1. But they would not really fit with the Shia majority protesting. Quite the opposite actually, as the fundamental Islam of Al’Qaeda does clash with a lot that is core to the Shia views of Islam

          2. And how do you start a “hardline fundamentalist Islamic state”? Maybe by toppling the regime that’s currently in power?

            The problem is that the protesters and al’Qaeda want different things. I anything, a’Qaeda would be supporting the Bahrain government.

        2. Rule number 1 in the revolutionaries handbook, create chaos and destroy the governments ability to govern.

  13. In a wonderful bit of dictatorial media twisting news Bahrain’s Justice Ministry will try in a military court 47 medical professionals for alleged deadly assault and refusal to help persons in need during the months of unrest in the kingdom.
    In fact the 24 doctors and 23 nurses are on trial for aiding injured participants of the riots. When demonstrators show up to protest the F1 race in November they must understand that there will be no medical aid provided when they are injured by the Saudi troops imported for the purpose to suppress their protests.
    Will the medical staffs that are there to serve the participants of the race be forced by ethical concerns and their Hippocratic Oath to provide their services? I think some the people from the teams who have first hand experience viewing the conditions in the less well off countries F1 visits see the truth of their position and relevance of their sport as entertainment.
    Honestly I think this is a ploy by the FIA and the Bahrain government to make FOTA responsible for lose of money that will not flow into their coffers when the teams inevitably refuse to race. As to the naive it just a motor race comments I encourage you read a little bit more about the news in Bahrain than the motor news sites. There are actual people with actual lives living in that country.
    All a bit too twisted for me so that we can watch a motor race.

    1. Further I find it hard to believe that the world wide exposure this story is receiving and will continue to receive as the now proposed event nears, certain people will find it hard to personally not stand upon their principles and refuse to go to Bahrain. If for instance Weber or another driver, mechanic or supporting staff refuses to participate in the race will they be sanction by their employer? Will the number two’s in the team system be forced to fill the voids? Yes with six more months before the new start time those who waffle will be held in the headlights for their lack of decisiveness. This story is unlikely to go away as the story of the people of Bahrain continues to unfold in the world media.

    2. Well these doctors apparently refused to treat wounded Pakistani’s and Sunni’s. I’d say that’s a clear violation of the Hippocratic Oath.

      1. Those are indeed one of the accusations made by the Government. This may provide a less biased look at the charges.

      2. Exaclt, apparently.

        The only indications that is close to being true come from the Bahrain government. Evidence rather points a different direction.

  14. The most obvious fault line is president Martin Whitmarsh’s connection to the Bahraini royal family, who are part owners of McLaren.

    Oh. My. God!

    I believe the Bahrain GP should be postponed until the physical wellbeing of the individual is not put in jeopardy by the expression an opinion contrary to government policy.

    1. Your GOD, their GOD therein lies the problem.

      1. Not at all hohum. That is just nonsense.

        1. So you don’t think the fact that the rulers and their supporters are Sunni and the protesters are Shia has a bearing?

          1. Not particularly, since a majority of the population is Shia. If a Shia minority was being persecuted I might agree with you. This is more class-based than sectarian strife.

            Although the fact that the ruling family is Sunni gives it a sectarian angle, it is not the primary basis.

          2. I mean, if a Shia minority was protesting a Sunni majority then you could call it sectarian. Sorry if there was any confusion

          3. Yes, that has a bearing, it certainly is an important part of the bacground.

            But the simple fact that both have the same God (Allah) makes your post nonsensical.

  15. Seeing the news item about the new medium tyres for Canada testing, I recalled something else. When were those young driver testing days supposed to be? Hope that doesn’t clash with now with race, guess it is good the teams have a sea of time during all those winter months to take care of such things, and who cars about planning anyway.

    1. When were those young driver testing days supposed to be?

      After Abu Dhabi. Before India.

      1. And before Brazil as well

        1. Right. Before Brazil. I was too used to seeing Abu Dhabi after Brazil.

  16. We go to China and because we can’t see its violence and oppression, we ignore it. We pretend that it doesn’t happen. But it’s always guaranteed ‘safe’ to race there.

    But I can also guarantee that more innocent people have died at the hands of that government since the Chinese GP took place, than will ever die at the hands of any Bahrain government.

    So FOTA have a difficult decision to make on so many levels.

    1. Just before the Olympic games there were some terrorist threats in China. But indeed their massive police/military deployments in case of unrest usually ensures that:
      A) No news gets out about the unrest
      B) It’s reasonably safe for tourists

      I think only India has a negative travel advice at the moment. Although Malaysia also has it’s threat of terrorism and kidnapping in certain areas.

    2. That’s not a hard guarantee to make when the Chinese population is approximately 1000 times larger.

      If you are talking percentages, then I would dispute that too. Of course, it entirely unprovable either way, so in the end numbers are a moot point. The locality in both time and space is the issue here for most people against the GP being re-instated. We’re not racing five months after Tiananmen Square.

  17. I imagine Bahrain has promised that they will pacify the population in 136 days, and the coming race has now given the goverment the impetus to do so by any necessary means. It will be done outside of the public view, and it will be terrible. Unfortunately, given that the country is small, western media have forgotten about it, the U.S./UK goverments are looking the other way, and Saudi troops are at the ready, Bahrain is in a good position to lock down the country totally by then.

    I think this is what Bernie is counting on. Bernis is doing to the country what was done to him by muggers on a London street. Unfortnately they are not in a position to laugh it off and to collect insurance claims.

  18. If the season was intended to end in Brazil where would the young drivers’ test take place? And with India set to occupy a new date further in December, will they even take place?

  19. I’m wondering whether there might some truth in James Allen’s hypothesis that the FIA really has no intention that there will be a race in Bahrain.

    They are confident that the race will ultimately be cancelled for one reason or another, but they want to keep the Bahrain royal family on-side, so they don’t want to be seen to be making the decision.

    1. They could have simply said that there was no room to move the race.

      It’s not really FIA’s call anyway. Ecclestone was scrambling to get the race back on the calendar from the moment it got cancelled. I seriously doubt he’s just putting on a show.

  20. The FIA again shows its commitment to a “green” F1.
    MONEY green!

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