The Bahrain affair was a return to the bad old days of F1 politics


Bahrain International Circuit, 2004

Bahrain International Circuit, 2004

The FIA’s decision yesterday to strike the Bahrain Grand Prix from the 2011 F1 calendar is welcome – but long overdue.

It came four months too late to spare F1 a messy row which cast the sport in a negative light.

Once the Bahrain government took the decision in February not to hold the season-opening race the following month, it should have served as the cue for the race to be dropped from the calendar entirely.

Instead the F1 calendar was thrown into doubt for months as the Bahrainis were given first one deadline, then another. Eventually the race was reinstated, then finally scrapped for good within the space of two weeks.

The blinkered belief that the race could be be shoe-horned into the end of the calendar, the hasty attempt to displace another event, the deafness to the concerns of the teams or the inconvenience it would cause to race-goers; all this and more demonstrated an eagerness to do business with Bahrain’s rulers which was unseemly given what had taken place in the country.

The likelihood that the government’s decision to end the state of emergency was timed in order to suit the FIA’s timetable for making a decision on reinstating the race is a particularly troubling thought.

The FIA meekly followed Bernie Ecclestone’s attempts to reinstate the race in spite of insurmountable obstacles: he pressed for a one-month extension on the deadline to decide on the race, the FIA supplied it; Ecclestone claimed the teams were happy to race in Bahrain, the FIA believed him and acted accordingly.

A conveniently-glowing first-hand account of the situation in Bahrain was rubber-stamped by the FIA. The flimsy document appears to have been the product of a carefully-choreographed visit. The report was not made public but was leaked online.

The FIA’s Carlos Gracia met with Tariq al-Saffar, who is billed in the report as a “human rights representative” who turned out to be from the Bahrain government’s National Institution for Human Rights whose credentials on promoting human rights are dubious (as first noted by a group of F1 Fanatic readers).

Once reality hit home – a letter from the Formula 1 Teams’ Association to the FIA making their position unequivocally clear – and the impossibility of racing in Bahrain became apparent, the two sides turned on each other.

Ecclestone won the sprint to a microphone, telling the world Bahrain wouldn’t happen after all, leaving Jean Todt and the FIA out on a limb.

Todt hit back by exposing Ecclestone’s inconsistency: One day after saying the race was “not on”, Ecclestone had made fresh attempts to fit Bahrain into the calendar.

Last year brought a welcome break from the toxic politics of recent seasons. The Bahrain affair was an unwelcome return to the bad old days.

Few people in F1 emerge from this mess with any credibility. The exceptions are the teams, whose refusal to accept a late change in the calendar finally halted the efforts to reinstate the race, and the few drivers who spoke out about the situation, chief among which was Mark Webber.

For those in charge there are plenty of lessons to be learned. Particularly as there is every chance F1 will face a repeat of this debate over next year’s Bahrain Grand Prix, which is slated to open the new season on March 11th.

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62 comments on The Bahrain affair was a return to the bad old days of F1 politics

  1. Imran said on 16th June 2011, 15:52

    I think websites like yours escalate the issue and make it look more political than it actually is.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 16th June 2011, 16:00

      I don’t know what you mean by “more political”.

      It is political, of course, but that’s something of a binary state. Either it is or it isn’t – and this definitely is.

      And whether it is or it’s not is not altered by whether anyone writes about it.

    • Patrickl said on 16th June 2011, 19:39

      It’s political in the sense that terrorism is political. In this case terrorism won.

      • xtophe (@xtophe) said on 16th June 2011, 19:56

        Could you expand on that?

        As said before, the only way to make this non-political would’ve been to say: you had your chance, try again next year. In all fearness, it would’ve saved the faces of all those involved. That has nothing to do with moral consciousness whatsoever. By shuffling everything to suit 1 GP, it became political, no matter what.

      • hohum said on 16th June 2011, 21:07

        Which side were the terrorists?

      • Maciek said on 17th June 2011, 7:37

        Great sounding lines – too bad the first one means nothing and the other one makes no sense.

      • Bäremans said on 17th June 2011, 16:31

        What has terrorism got to do with this? Nothing!

        Did Al Qaida perhaps threathen to suicide-bomb the Ferrari garage if the race was held?

        Or are you perhaps referring to the protesters who were on the streets in February and in prison or the graveyard now?

  2. Nick said on 16th June 2011, 15:55

    If the F1 powers to be really cared about Motorsport (remember, it has the word “sport” in it), a few current tracks would be dropped and a few others added, Portimao springs to mind for instance.

  3. Malibu_GP said on 16th June 2011, 20:53

    Of course We should care about all People everywhere. Those that say otherwise, are selfish as hell and don’t deserve whatever good fortune they receive. This is a touchy subject though. Probably why I’ve not commented till now. Never be fooled All…, It is Your obligation as Humans to have concern and love for Your fellow Man! I am more cynical than most, yet this I never forget. I choose to have a heart full of compassion, understanding and reverence for all life. Sounds sappy, but My happiness is mainly due to trying My best to be the best I can, to Myself and others. Within that pursuit is evidence of this great truth. Be loving. U hate Lewis (or whomever) ? Find something You like about them. Treat Your neighbors and loved ones better. You will feel the difference. Those are the points this thread brings to My mind. Sports are political. Business, relationships, and many other facets of life are as well… So, being a tactful politician is a useful skill to possess.

  4. Malibu_GP said on 16th June 2011, 21:06

    To follow up on that: As long as the (politician’s) agenda isn’t self serving and is really for the benefit of the entity concerned.

  5. hohum said on 16th June 2011, 21:09

    Where’s LAK.

  6. marsht (@marsht) said on 16th June 2011, 23:14

    Bahrain should be banned from hosting F1 races permanently until it’s rulers agree to regime change which puts the day to day rights of human beings FIRST.
    Besides even without the human rights issues the Bahrain circuit is horrendously dour and dull, with far too much run off area, too few fans and grandstands too far from the track which produces sterile, processional events year after year mostly for the sole pleasure of it’s tyrannical leaders. The dullness issue alone should be enough to see this sickening race scrapped..

  7. US_Peter (@us_peter) said on 17th June 2011, 3:10

    Great article Keith. Pretty much spot on all around.

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