How should FOTA react to the Bahrain decision?

2011 Bahrain Grand Prix

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

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

  1. NickTheGeek said on 6th June 2011, 12:10

    Its an absolute disgrace that the FIA and FOM are prepared to stage the race. Whats been said however is correct, the teams really are in no position to argue, their only way out is to have a VERY united front and spin the negative media attention back towards the FIA and FOM to force their hand.

    • VXR said on 6th June 2011, 12:14

      The ‘people’ of Bahrain are organising a ‘Day of Rage’ for the GP (see twitter). If it gathers enough momentum, there will be no Bahrain GP.

      • Sherlock said on 6th June 2011, 12:20

        “Day of Rage” from peaceful opposition? And against what – F1?

        • Against what it represents in the context of an unstable socio-economic situation and a divisive government. Remember the government is the main impetus of the Grand Prix and it’s the event for which the Bahraini government is best known. As a symbol in the minds of the Bahraini public, F1 is as powerful as the Pearl Roundabout but for quite different reasons.

          • VXR said on 6th June 2011, 12:31

            Indeed. There is a fear that the GP will be used as a symbol of oppression towards the people of Bahrain. A symbol that could be used time and again when ever there is unrest in the country.

        • Patrickl said on 6th June 2011, 16:14

          We had a race in Barcelona a few weeks ago. The race weekend was smack in the middle of a period of mass protests. There were several police actions to clear up blockaded area’s in Barcelona.

          Just after the race there was more violent action:
          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tI0S-AcqQ1g

          What does F1 have to do with any of this?

          • mvi said on 6th June 2011, 18:14

            In Barcelona the race was just an annual sporting event. It was not there to present a facade of everything being alright.

            Sorry to see the police took harsh action of a kind that one frequently sees at mass protests everywhere. Nowhere near as harsh as in Bahrain where people got killed, others got arrested and tortured, put on trial, robbed of their livelihoods, and if you helped the wrong people medically you were immediately targeted for such lamentable treatment.

            (If this particular video is from the day of the Barcelona vs Man United game, in my opinion the authorities could have made more of an effort to clean around the protesters rather than dismantling everything first, so what if it wasn’t totally clean. Or at least they could have communicated better. They missed an opportunity.)

      • Daniel Chico (@daniel-chico) said on 7th June 2011, 22:32

        Twitter-organized protests are a myth. When you want to gather against an opressive regime, you don’t want to be noticed by the repression-delivers (again, bad english… sorry…). It’s not a matter of the technologically dumb government vs. the revolutionary connected youth.

  2. AdrianMorse said on 6th June 2011, 12:19

    Shame on Bernie & Co. for ever putting the option on the table of holding the Bahrain GP later in the season. No one could have blamed F1 in general if the Bahrainis had been told “sorry, you missed your slot this year, let’s evaluate the situation again next season”.

    F1 doesn’t need Bahrain (especially with the US and Russian GPs on the horizon, and a calendar fit to bursting), but going there could seriously hurt the sport (not to mention oppressed Bahrainis).

    Perhaps FOTA should sue the FIA for bringing the sport into disrepute.

    • Patrickl said on 6th June 2011, 16:24

      The Bahraini’s pay 30 to 40 million for their race. I guess Ecclestone couldn’t just let that go.

      Then there are all the sponsors who are not paying their money. I think it was estimade that that was another 40 million.

      So that’s a total of 70 to 80 million that Ecclestone want’s his hands on.

      Actually a big part of that would be for the teams. So even the teams stand to make millions from this race.

  3. Instead the FIA, running true to form, has postponed the decision and not even settled on a date for the Indian round.

    Have the FIA decided when they’ll finalise the Indian GP date? F1.com says December 9/10/11.

    Intereatingly though if you head to the Bahrain GP page on F1.com it’s still showing the March dates for its race schedule.

    • *Interestingly

      • BasCB (@bascb) said on 6th June 2011, 12:54

        A best possible reason for not seriously planning a new date for India might be that no one seriously believes Bahrain to go ahead in October.

        But leaving it to someone else (the teams?) to do so.

        • Problem is that you have people cancelling October flights and putting December ones in place, and it’d be a right farce if people were told “yeah, change your bookings back, we’ve changed our mind about the date”.

          To be honest this could have all been avoided had they chosen to put Bahrain as the final race and leave India alone, but I guess the October date was to make things easy in terms of going from Bahrain “up the road” to Abu Dhabi which takes place 2 weeks later.

          • BasCB (@bascb) said on 6th June 2011, 16:52

            I was not intending to say I agree with it, just saying what might have been a reason.

            You are perfectly right.

    • bosyber (@bosyber) said on 6th June 2011, 13:28

      Interesting, usually (as shown by that Bahrain GP page) F1.com is very slow and sluggish to react to anything at all.

  4. Dev said on 6th June 2011, 12:21

    FOTA members should propose Bernie that they are willing to do an additional race elsewhere in the world, a place where it’s actually profitable to make the race happen… so that teams can compensate Bernie with another race… keeping sponsors happy & also keeping Bernie happy by letting him have his race fee.

    second option would be giving financial compensation to all affected members who would lose it’s revenue due to their decision to not race there.

    third option would be simply wear a arm band which for supporting peace & wishing both sides well; stay quiet race there if safe & not try to put the political hat on.

  5. Maciek said on 6th June 2011, 12:21

    I think that it’s been made fairly clear time and again where the majority of people visiting this site think about holding the GP. Given that F1F seems to be steadily gaining in prominence and mainstream recognition, that is already a fairly clear signal of where fans stand (that’s not to ignore opposing views, but it’s pretty clear I think that, however vocal, they are a minority).

    I haven’t really seen this mentioned much, but there is a pretty big can of worms waiting to be opened here: if we accept that it’s wrong for F1 to legitimise and take money from the Bahraini government – how long can we feel ok about the same governemnt’s stake in McLaren? Lots of accusations about double standards have been thrown around lately, especially in relation to the Chinese GP – arguably with good reason – but it seems to me like the absolutely unavoidable conclusion of the logic of boycotting the race is that McLaren are part and parcel of a repressive regime’s array of ‘crown jewels’. I like McLaren, always have, I like both Hamilton and Button. But thinking about all this, I’m going to have trouble wholeheartedly cheering for them for the moment.

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 6th June 2011, 13:01

      I must say, I am curious how Withmarsh is going to handle this, especially as the FOTA chairman.

    • bosyber (@bosyber) said on 6th June 2011, 13:32

      I have wondered if the people in charge of money deals at McLaren have been very busy indeed to get different sources of money. We can say that McLaren took the money before the Bahrain situation escalated, and with them being part owned, it is quite hard to quickly change that, so some amount of leniency can be given. But yes, it’s a bit of an issue for them, I gather, and certainly makes Whitmarsh be in a somewhat tricky position.

      • hohum said on 6th June 2011, 14:21

        While the violent reaction to peaceful protest in Bahrain is abhorrent we have to remember that generally the Gulf states have been seen as the civilised face of absolute monarchy , with a great deal of benevolence allowing a population explosion leading to the current discontent.

        • Maciek said on 6th June 2011, 14:45

          with a great deal of benevolence allowing a population explosion

          How does that follow?

          • hohum said on 6th June 2011, 18:11

            They are not feeding themselves by subsistence farming, they are being supported by the govt. or are working in the economy, that’s how they support their large families.

        • BasCB (@bascb) said on 6th June 2011, 16:55

          Hm, not sure I saw them like that. What for the repeated issues with “slave” workers in construction and household personell, not to mention the general level of freedom and womens rights and all that were available for years now.

          • hohum said on 6th June 2011, 18:16

            Not defending their employment practices or their womens rights, just stating that their homeborn citizens get a lot of handouts and poverty is relative.

  6. VXR said on 6th June 2011, 12:27

    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.”

  7. toddjamin (@toddjamin) said on 6th June 2011, 12:30

    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.

  8. mantolwen (@mantolwen) said on 6th June 2011, 12:49

    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.

  9. BasCB (@bascb) said on 6th June 2011, 12:50

    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.

    • Burnout said on 6th June 2011, 18:37

      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

  10. BROOKSY007 (@brooksy007) said on 6th June 2011, 12:53

    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?

  11. verstappen said on 6th June 2011, 12:54

    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.

    • Anne said on 6th June 2011, 13:18

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

      Here is a list of the people of the WMSC http://fia.com/en-GB/the-fia/governance/Documents/wmsc-2010.pdf

      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?

      • bosyber (@bosyber) said on 6th June 2011, 13:36

        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.

        • BasCB (@bascb) said on 6th June 2011, 13:50

          Alan Benson, Reuters.

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

          • bosyber (@bosyber) said on 6th June 2011, 14:04

            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.

          • BasCB (@bascb) said on 6th June 2011, 16:57

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

          • Russell said on 6th June 2011, 22:35

            @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.

        • Russell said on 6th June 2011, 22:23

          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.

  12. Hamish said on 6th June 2011, 13:06

    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…

  13. Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 6th June 2011, 13:15

    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.

    • Dev said on 6th June 2011, 13:42

      +1 agree!!

    • bosyber (@bosyber) said on 6th June 2011, 13:43

      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.

    • Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 6th June 2011, 13:46

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

    • Patrickl said on 6th June 2011, 16:28

      Completely agree.

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

      • Rob said on 6th June 2011, 16:43

        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.

  14. Sherlock said on 6th June 2011, 13:17

    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?

    • bosyber (@bosyber) said on 6th June 2011, 13:48

      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.

      • bosyber (@bosyber) said on 6th June 2011, 13:48

        “Are you saying” sorry.

        • Sherlock said on 6th June 2011, 15:29

          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)

          Thanks.

      • BasCB (@bascb) said on 6th June 2011, 14:10

        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.

  15. Johnny 5 said on 6th June 2011, 13:25

    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.

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