Good to go?
APRIL 11, 2012
The trouble with an important issue such as the Bahrain Grand Prix is that it seems to present leading F1 people with the unfortunate opportunity to make themselves look silly.
Here we are, less than two weeks away from the fourth round of the FIA F1 World Championship and no one is sure if it is going to happen. What does that tell the casual observer, unfamiliar with the politics driving a major global sport? It is like entering the last fortnight of the FA Cup and one of the finalists - let's say, Liverpool - mutters about maybe not travelling to Wembley because of militant dockers on Merseyside threatening to steal the wheels from the team coach.
That's an exaggeration, of course, and not as serious as the alleged threats of disorder on the highways and byways of Bahrain. But the buck-passing by F1's grandees is creating the same negative effect as a finalist in the world's oldest football competition waiting until match day before deciding whether or not to leave home.
Forgetting, for a moment, the apparent lack of leadership within F1; the problem is being created by an absence of thoroughly reliable information from within Bahrain. In this fast-moving age of social media, we are inundated with blogs and opinions allegedly emanating from the heart of the hot spots. While many of these missives are undoubtedly written with conviction and good intention, there is no way of testing either their veracity or the supposition that nothing but trouble is in store.
The ruling regime insists that security is guaranteed. But then, cynics claim, they would say that given that the Grand Prix is Bahrain's only global sporting event. You have to ask, however, if the Bahrain government would be stupid enough to risk having the world's media focus on their country and their race if the participants are in danger.
One of the most interesting developments concerned a statement put out by the Bahrain organisers quoting a report from two Lotus representatives who had visited the country, apparently on behalf of the F1 teams. Lotus were indignant that Bahrain should highlight the team representatives' view that "we came away from Bahrain feeling a lot more confident that everything is in hand". Lotus were at pains to say that these words were from a private report. Fair enough. But, publishing protocol aside, I thought it significant and telling that Lotus did not contradict the actual quotes.
This morning (Wednesday), The Daily Telegraph (a quality British national newspaper not owned by Rupert Murdoch) ran a story from Christina Impka, whom I presume to be an impartial reporter, operating on the ground in Bahrain. Impka made it clear that: 'In terms of a security threat to the grand prix, there does not appear to be one'. The majority of reports elsewhere speak merely of 'concerns' about 'possible trouble'. Is it fair to suggest there is reasonable cause to ask if these concerns are real or imagined? Who can tell us?
None of the foregoing is meant to either diminish or side-step the root cause of the unrest. That is a different and more troubling aspect of the story. But, as discussed in this column a year ago, it is a dangerous area for any sport to pass judgement - particularly when, this weekend, F1 is in a country with questionable human rights issues. Moral judgements are, and always have been, a different matter when sport is dragged into politics.
It is time for the FIA to follow its code of being 'dedicated to representing the rights of motoring organisations and motor car users throughout the world' even though, in this case, 'motor car users' may not be quite as the governing body intended when setting out its charter more than 100 years ago.
The FIA can only be advised by the promoters - in this case, the ruling regime. The Kingdom of Bahrain has guaranteed security. The FIA has to decide whether or not to accept that. It is a difficult call. But that is no excuse for delaying it to a degree that makes F1 look stupid.
It's not as if the problem has sprung from nowhere. Would it not have been better to omit the race from the calendar in the first place and avoid this ridiculous eleventh-hour prevarication? Or is there some awkward detail of the relationship between the FIA (among others) and Bahrain that the governing body isn't telling us about?
Good to go? Yes or no?
Maurice Hamilton , a freelance motor sport writer and broadcaster since 1977, is the author of more than twenty books and contributes to websites and magazines worldwide.
His weekly column for Grandprix.com was Highly Commended in the 2011 Newspress New Media Awards.