Update: Joe Saward has published his summary of the weekend, including an account of a meeting with some of his Bahraini readers. It’s a long post, and too good to rip quotes out of, but gives a side of things that just wasn’t shown by the mainstream media. It’s well worth reading it all.
Well, it looks like the Grand Prix will go ahead, despite Ed Millipede joining the chorus calling for it to be cancelled.
For what it’s worth, I don’t think they should be there. I don’t think they should go to China either. Malaysia’s a bit dodgy, too. And I’ve never liked Singapore: they’ve almost as many surveillance cameras as we do.
But seriously, I don’t. The situation there is little better, if at all, than it was last year, when the race was cancelled. Indeed, not long after last year’s non-race, some of the Bahrain International Circuit staff themselves were “arrested”, and, well… who knows? It’s all rather murky.
However, an F1 event lasts three days. It’s already started. The time for cancellation was a fortnight ago (the 2011 race was called off somewhere between one and two weeks before it was due to go ahead, as far as I recall). The logistics of top-level motorsport mean that stuff starts shipping out immediately the flag goes down on the previous race. Indeed, these days, with the abolition of separate test teams, much of the equipment is doubled up, and will ship to “flyaway” (non-European) races two events ahead. Everyone’s there. There are thousands of people at the circuit and around Manama right now for not only F1, but support events: GP2, the Porsche Supercup, etc. The only legitimate reasons for cancelling this weekend would be a genuine threat to safety – that’s usually weather related, but could well include a credible threat of track invasion should one emerge – or to make a political point. And whatever it looks like, the one thing the FIA and Ecclestone’s Formula One Management company have been studiously trying to avoid is appearing to make any political statements.
The trouble is, they backed themselves into a corner. There’s a lot of Bahraini money in motorsport, particularly F1. McLaren is part Bahraini-owned, for example, and there’s sponosorship and equity right down the grid. The BIC is a great facility, very useful for hot weather testing (although there’s precious little of that in F1 nowadays) as well as race events. So there’s tremendous pressure to keep the ruling family sweet, and the only reason they got away with last year’s cancellation was the solemn assurance that they’d be back as soon as things calmed down.
So, what could they do this year? Say, “Nope, still no good?” Well, personally I would have. Sticking to your guns makes less of a statement than changing your mind and appearing to support the government’s rather thin protestations of calm and order. The F1 authorities put themselves in a very tricky situation.
It’s not a decision I – unlike Ed – would like to have made. But it’s been made. Now they’re there, they might as well go through with it.
If you’re interested, Joe Saward is the go-to guy for news. He takes pride in attending every event in person (you’d be amazed how many so-called F1 journalists have no more direct experience of the sport than I do), and has been following the Bahrain fiasco more closely than most since early last year. The latest as I write is that the Force India team, whose staff were caught up in yesterday’s disturbances, didn’t attend the second Free Practice session this afternoon, in order to get its people back to Manama before nightfall. This evening should be the big test of how safe things will be over the course of the weekend, given that the protests all over the middle east always tend to get a boost after Friday prayers.