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. Picasso 1.9D FTW (@picasso-19d-ftw) said on 6th June 2011, 13:33

    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.

  2. Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 6th June 2011, 13:34

    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?

    • bosyber (@bosyber) said on 6th June 2011, 13:53

      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.

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 6th June 2011, 14:13

      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.

      • Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 6th June 2011, 14:30

        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.

        • AdrianMorse said on 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?

    • hohum said on 6th June 2011, 14:34

      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.

      • Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 6th June 2011, 15:23

        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.

        • Patrickl said on 6th June 2011, 16:35

          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.

          • BasCB (@bascb) said on 6th June 2011, 17:12

            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

          • Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 7th June 2011, 0:23

            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.

        • hohum said on 6th June 2011, 18:20

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

  3. motocan (@motocan) said on 6th June 2011, 14:19

    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.

    • motocan (@motocan) said on 6th June 2011, 15:12

      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.

    • Patrickl said on 6th June 2011, 16:38

      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.

  4. Shimks said on 6th June 2011, 14:33

    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.

    • hohum said on 6th June 2011, 14:36

      Your GOD, their GOD therein lies the problem.

      • BasCB (@bascb) said on 6th June 2011, 17:14

        Not at all hohum. That is just nonsense.

        • hohum said on 6th June 2011, 18:25

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

          • Burnout said on 6th June 2011, 18:51

            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.

          • Burnout said on 6th June 2011, 18:53

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

          • BasCB (@bascb) said on 6th June 2011, 20:31

            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.

  5. bosyber (@bosyber) said on 6th June 2011, 15:05

    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.

  6. VXR said on 6th June 2011, 15:12

    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.

    • Patrickl said on 6th June 2011, 16:47

      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.

    • Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 6th June 2011, 19:55

      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.

  7. DaveW said on 6th June 2011, 15:28

    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.

  8. Fixy (@fixy) said on 6th June 2011, 16:01

    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?

  9. Jonathan said on 6th June 2011, 16:22

    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.

    • Patrickl said on 6th June 2011, 16:49

      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.

  10. Fishingelbow (@fishingelbow) said on 6th June 2011, 17:10

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

  11. motocan (@motocan) said on 6th June 2011, 18:08

    The reaction of many to the feeling that F1 is becoming too politicized is telling. The question must be who is doing the politicizing. FOTA, the FIA, the fans? Well no I do believe it is the government of Bahrain who want us to believe that all is well in the Kingdom. The sport is be hijacked by the ruling class of Bahrain to show the world they are respectful of the citizens of the country. I await Bernie to deplane waving a piece of paper declaring peace in our time. Lol
    With no disrespect for the problems of the citizens of Bahrain this should stop. I for one am tired of being used through my association with being a fan of motor racing being constantly dragged into this debate because of the desire of those who are only interest in the race from a totally monetary nature. Regardless of the final outcome of this foolishness the sponsors that will have their names splashed across all the media sites will know by now that most fans look on this decision with contempt.

  12. VXR said on 6th June 2011, 18:32

    Not to worry! Mr Todt has it all under control.

    • Russell said on 6th June 2011, 23:14

      From Autosport:

      “Our special envoy had meetings with the human rights people responsible in Bahrain,” said Todt. “He met many people before the report was submitted and unanimously agreed.”

      Todt conveniently forgets to mention that the ‘human rights people responsible in Bahrain’ that he met are appointed by the King, Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa.

  13. VXR said on 6th June 2011, 18:57

    It also irks me somewhat to realise that out of the 4,000 or so people involved in F1 teams, only one man (Mark Webber) has publicly come out and shown his support for the people of Bahrain.

    Others have either moaned about how unsafe it might be for the drivers (Barrichello) or have moaned about the last GP now being very late in the season (Ross Brawn). I think I know which side their bread is buttered on!

  14. Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 6th June 2011, 20:02

    On the “F1 shouldn’t be political issue”:

    It would seem to me that not racing on the grounds of having missed their deadline and the potential of screwing up the calendar, plus the negative effects that has on next year’s calendar (i.e. it would be too soon) would be less political than racing there after squeezing them in, so anyone who says F1 shouldn’t be political should really be wanting this race to not go ahead.

  15. SPIDERman said on 6th June 2011, 20:49

    mark webber is paid to drive.
    if he wants to talk politics…F1 is not the place…and mowsly? the former F1 BOSS should stop trying to influence F1 from outside.he should retire in piece.
    in his time FI was run like a personal kingdom whereby perceived enemies were punished with high fines like the mclaren team during the spygate saga.

    • VXR said on 6th June 2011, 20:55

      Mark Webber has freedom of speech. Nice innit.

      Max Mosley could have dumped McLaren out of the championship. They got off lightly, very lightly.

      • SPIDERman said on 6th June 2011, 23:06

        webber raced in china..there is no freedom of speech..and Ai weiwei is in body knows exactly where he is..and last years chinese nobel peace prize winner is still locked up by chinese authorities and his family prevented from even collecting the prize on his behalf.
        webber did not complain.he should keep off and drive where his employer takes him period.

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