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. Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 6th June 2011, 21:49

    Well I’ll be very interested to hear FOTA’s response considering Domenicali and Mallya both voted to re-instate the race

    • Russell said on 6th June 2011, 23:33

      Notice how evasive Todt’s eyes are when he talks. He does not believe a word he is saying.

      Interesting that this seems the first confirmation that Stefano Domenicali was there representing the manufacturers and voted in favour of Bahrain’s reinstatement. Perhaps time to drop a line to Luca to tell him I’m now thinking of selling my Ferrari.

      BTW, is the interviewer Ted Kravitz?

      • Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 7th June 2011, 7:12

        Notice how evasive Todt’s eyes are when he talks. He does not believe a word he is saying.

        When I’m standing at the front of my classroom teaching a group of year nine students about Romeo and Juliet, my eyes could reasonably described as “everywhere”. Does this mean that I do not believe what I am saying? or does it simply mean that I’m addressing thirty students at once, and thus cannot fix my gaze on just one person?

        I think you’ve been watching too many episodes of “Lie to Me”. Tim Roth might be filled with British swagger, but it’s little more than pop psychology.

      • BasCB (@bascb) said on 7th June 2011, 12:58

        He might have just been looking at the camera or his assistant or something.

  2. motocan (@motocan) said on 6th June 2011, 22:14

    Brother naivety rules. From their safe comfy sofa the please don’t bother me with this crap crowd warbling on as if Bahrain is a football field where the needs of fans must be met at all cost. Life outside the stadium is in turmoil for those living there. There will be protest because the world will be watching, people will suffer during these protest. The people suffering are trying to achieve the same freedoms you enjoy. The only solution will be free democratic elections and the relinquishment of power by the present rulers to satisfy the needs of democracy.
    When you speak of the country of Bahrain and compare it with China remember that the Island is the same size as the island of Montreal where the next F1 race will be held. If the city and inhabitants of Montreal where in revolt would the world see the situation a bit differently. Would not Montrealers use the world wide viewed event to bring attention to there cause. The government of Canada spent a billion dollars for security at last years G8 summit to prevent Canadians from disrupting the meeting in Toronto and it appears illegally jailed thousands of demonstrators. What do you think the Bahrain government is willing to do to prevent there citizens from attaining democracy.

  3. NomadIndian said on 6th June 2011, 23:26

    Hi Keith,

    I think the next poll on Jean Todt’s approval rating is overdue now…

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 6th June 2011, 23:30

      Coming up soon, as mentioned this morning:

      http://twitter.com/#!/f1fanatic_co_uk/status/77692120164605952

      • Russell said on 6th June 2011, 23:36

        “scheduled for two weeks’ time”! Can’t you follow the lead of the FIA and massage the schedule so that we have it earlier?

    • mvi said on 7th June 2011, 0:01

      Now if Ari Vatanen were FIA president, I somehow think he would have given more credit to the human rights watchdogs about the situation in Bahrein than to one Carlos Gracia hosted by the reigning royal family.

    • Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 7th June 2011, 7:16

      I think the next poll on Jean Todt’s approval rating is overdue now…

      The results of which can already be discarded because people will only be thinking of Bahrain. Which is not the only thing that has happened of late – there is, for example, his handling of the off-throttle blown diffuser saga, the stewards handing out penalties to Lewis Hamilton (which he completely deserved), the calls for red-flag rule procedures to be changed, the introduction of the “extra hard”-spec Pirelli tyres and half a dozen other factors that will promptly be ignored by people looking to make a political statement simply because the WMSC voted to return to Bahrain – a decision that was Todt’s sole responsibility – to which Todt has responded by saying the FIA will monitor the situation closely because, let’s face it, anything can happen in the next five months.

      • NomadIndian said on 7th June 2011, 10:51

        I am sure Keith will cover all recent developments in the article like he always does. And even if after that everyone votes on the basis of the Bahrain decision alone, so be it. That’s public life…

        I for one feel Todt has behaved like a complete opposite of Mosley, a tad too much… I can not see a stamp of his personality on any of the recent decisions.

  4. Eric said on 6th June 2011, 23:27

    If there are any victims of violence lets hope it Bernie and Todt. That would make the race worth having….

  5. mvi said on 6th June 2011, 23:49

    Well, this is interesting. According to The Times, Ecclestone has been in talks with FOTA and, incredibly, is asking for a new vote.

    http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/sport/formulaone/article3052701.ece (requires a subscription)

    He is disputing the FIA’s report that there are no problems in Bahrain, as Todt restated in his interview with the BBC.

    He is suggesting putting the Indian GP back to its original date of Oct 30 and putting Bahrain provisionally for Dec 4, going only if it is “safe and well”.

    • hohum said on 7th June 2011, 14:24

      Thats just Bernie reading the wind and providing a sop to public opinion whilst still giving his Royal friend a race.

  6. I admittedly haven’t read all the posts above but thought I’d weigh in here on a few things.

    I think it’s pretty clear that factions within Bahrain will do everything and anything within their power to make an impact should the F1 circus rock up there in October. And who’s to blame them really? The Bahrain regime has all but barred international media from reporting the situation on the ground there so the revolutionary movement need all the help they can get to get the message out. F1’s media circus might just be the ticket.

    I personally think that Todt’s assertion that sport is needed in such situations for “moral purposes” i.e implying that the staging of the grand prix would somehow improve the situation there to be bordering on delusional. It’s abundantly clear that the masses couldn’t care two hoots about who gets pole much less who wins the race, and the fact that they appear to have more pressing concerns seems to have been overlooked by Todt and the other so called decision makers.

    All in all, there are quite a few different aspects to consider:

    1. The crown Prince absolutely wants the race to go ahead. Given that the (poorer) Shia majority are endeavoring to bring about a revolution of their own, it’s patently clear that F1 or any other form of foreign investment sporting or or otherwise does nothing ameliorate their condition. The last thing it would do is bring all Bahrainis together to warm their hands around the fire of their common love for F1.

    2. It is clear that the security cannot be guaranteed. Full stop. Although not reported in the mainstream press, most of you fellow fanatics know that the situation there remains volatile at best. Oppositions groups planning a “day of rage” on the 30th of October paints an ominous enough picture.

    3. PR fallout. I would imagine that some of the major sponsors (as well as ‘brand’ F1) are currently conducting extensive risk assessment evaluations. The bottom line is the raison d’etre for Vodaphone et al. so they’ll be trying to work out whether the PR fallout in the event of a security breach is worth risking for the airtime gained during the Bahrain GP. Having said that, some would argue that the PR fallout has already begun, which I suppose it has….

    4. FOTA contracts. I’m sure some of you (Keith included) are pretty clued up about the FOTAs contractual obligations. I would be very surprised if the team principals would send their teams into a potential war zone just to honor a contract. Furthermore, where on earth would the insurance contracts come from for the F1 teams to Bahrain package holiday? Hmmm…

    5. Moral question? Like many of you, I felt we had to wait long enough before someone mentioned the ‘M’ word.
    I agree with Mark Webber wholeheartedly on this one. Amid discussions of security, calendar length, holidays and other reasons against going to Bahrain, it was becoming increasingly clear were missing one crucial point. In the same way, when casting morality aside, for example, when arguing that the invasion of Iraq was a strategic blunder disrespects that untold numbers of people who died (on all fronts), we have a responsibility to recognize that millions of people in the Middle East are currently fighting for the future of their countries by standing up to the regime irrespective of the costs.

    In my view, the argument that paints those who fail to condemn Chinese and Turkish races on similar grounds with the broad brush of ‘hypocrisy’, doesn’t really hold water. Sure, we could decide to take the moral high ground and boycott the Chinese GP, but what purpose what that serve? If we boycotted everything that benefited the Chinese economy in protest of the regime, out lives would actually grind to a halt given that the majority of everything we use on a daily basis is made there. Or, do we give up using our mobile phones because of the continual atrocities that continue to occur the Congo (under the watchful eye of Nokia,Sony, LG et al.) over the coltan supplies? No we can’t because we’re dependent certain things, so I degree if hypocrisy is inevitable I’m afraid. Just read a book on the history of the British empire of you need any further examples. But we can take a stand against brazen profiteering under the guise of a “sporting event” happening at the same time men and women are spilling their blood for their children’s future and for the future of their country.

  7. congealedmeat said on 7th June 2011, 3:37

    All the political reasons aside, there is only one really good reason for not having this race.

    The track just isn’t an entertaining place to watch an F1 race.

    • Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 7th June 2011, 7:20

      The track just isn’t an entertaining place to watch an F1 race.
      Yes, let’s use the situation in Bahrain as an excuse to abandon the Grand Prix entirely. We’ll respond to the protests and the violence simply because it suits our agenda.

      We have a word for that: exploitation.

  8. It is difficult to separate political and economic considerations when such a high profile event like a Formula 1 race is at stake. FOTA should be entitled to a stronger voice among the decision makers in Formula 1 if the FIA hopes to keep Formula 1 the unrivaled, upper echelon in motor sports. After all, the teams and manufacturers are next in line to the fans/venues as being vital to the longevity of the sport. If a fracture develops among the FIA and FOTA then the rumors of a competing breakaway championship might start gaining traction!

  9. Slackbladder said on 7th June 2011, 5:26

    NO!

  10. kenji said on 7th June 2011, 7:19

    for scribe,

    everyone has an opinion and they are free to express it, except in china as this will earn you a 10year term in prison…if you’re lucky.

    my original point is this, prior to the tunisian uprising bahrein held a round of F1. no problems. then there is an uprising that has zip to do with the race per se. the race this year was cancelled due to safety and security reasons. the government of bahrein has now deemed it safe enough to hold the race. F1 has decided to hold the race, as it should if the safety is secure.

    what is your problem F1 is about racing cars, not being drawn into becoming a political tool which you and your supporters are now doing. it is true that no one raises a finger re china…why? their cruelty and inhumane activities towards their own people is well hidden, most of the time.

    all this ‘conspicuous compassion’ is more ‘look at me’ than a realistic and pragmatic viewpoint in the clear light of reason. by taking this very safe option of posting your perceived humanism is all rather soft. F1 should proceed with caution, hold the race if it is safe to do so, then leave and let the bahreinis sort there own problems out.

  11. If these people really feel this strongly about human rights then they are going to have to pull out of other races as well as Bahrain – including China and Turkey. The feelings being aired by some of the teams and drivers is nothing more than hypocrisy.

    F1 drivers should stick to racing and leave the politics to the politicians.

  12. kenji said on 7th June 2011, 9:40

    i would like to say that holding the race, as intended, has nothing to do with politics. the reason that it has been rescheduled is one of safety.

    not holding the race is what is political. next thing all the ‘compassionistas’ will be holding candlelit vigils and tying yellow ribbons around mythical trees!!!

    this is F1….racing cars around circuits.

  13. Sundar Shankar said on 7th June 2011, 13:59

    I think a provisional reinstatement makes sense, because the situation could be radically different by the end of October. But I find it difficult to see the race actually taking place, there are too many negative consequences. The logistical nightmare and stretching the season to December will be hard on the teams, and give headaches to fans planning to attend the Indian GP. But more importantly, there’s no denying that whichever direction this power struggle in Bahrain goes, all it takes is one lunatic suicide bomber or a disgruntled thug/cop with a gun to make us all regret racing there. I’m not ruling out a similar possibility in another country, just that the chances of that happening in Bahrain are much higher at the moment. Besides, in China and Turkey, neither the government nor the oppressed people have drawn F1 into their fight. In Bahrain, the rulers want to use it to tell the world everything’s fine. The protestors may view F1 personnel as one with the Khalifa family and hit the F1 circus to make their point. Since it is impossible to provide security to the hundreds of ‘normal’ people in the teams, it is a huge risk when the situation could potentially turn volatile quickly.

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