Bahrain: Vettel the only winner
APRIL 25, 2012
As the F1 teams legged it to Bahrain airport on Sunday night, they left behind the unpleasant mix of exhaust fumes, tear gas and the reek of self-interest. If the events of the previous week failed to flatter Bahrain, they did even less for a sport which came away with its reputation tarnished by world-wide scorn. Whether that was justified or not doesn't matter now. The fact is that it happened. Any idiot could have predicted it.
'The Times' newspaper summed up the prevailing mood on Monday morning with no less than five separate pieces investigating different angles but, with the exception of one, coming to the same conclusion; the Bahrain Grand Prix should never have taken place.
The race report, spread across a page and a half, told a F1 story that would have been intriguing under normal circumstances. But these were far from normal circumstances, the reporter unable to resist writing about protestors before mentioning the winner in the fourth paragraph.
A further page was given over to the same writer's comment on his findings after seeking out trouble-spots and speaking to protestors during the previous week. If the Bahraini authorities were surprised by a F1 journalist attempting to discover more about the cause of the trouble then they were as naive as Bernie Ecclestone when he made the typically glib assertion that there is no such thing as bad publicity.
A further page into 'The Times' Sport section brought us to a column by Simon Barnes. The Chief Sports Writer, a seasoned F1 veteran of about three races in 20 years, nevertheless used his erudite skills to express the view that F1 is one of the most self-indulgent sports he has come across, throwing in corrosive mentions of 'Spygate' and 'Crashgate' for good measure. No such thing as bad publicity, apparently; so that's okay then.
Away from Sport, the Opinion page of The Times carried an informative piece by Amir Taheri, an Iranian commentator based in Paris and London. Taheri outlined the power-struggle, not just in the Kingdom of Bahrain, but also within the ruling al-Khalifa family, his point being that Western democracies cannot remain indifferent to turmoil that could spread beyond the Bahraini borders. Taheri wrote in conclusion: 'Formula One has brought a festering situation to world attention. Maybe Bernie Ecclestone did something good without knowing it.'
Almost certainly he did, judging by the cosy relationship he and Jean Todt have with the al-Khalifa family. This and much more was the catalyst for 'The Times' editorial headed: 'The return of Formula One to Bahrain has tarnished the reputation of both'. Mention was made of a commentator on the paper's website who sagely noted: 'If accountable dictatorships are the problem, Bahrain would have been equally justified in boycotting F1.'
Which brings us to the nub of the problem from F1's point of view. More than 1000 people earning their living from F1 were in Bahrain at the contractual behest of Ecclestone and the FIA. The vast majority - if not everyone - wished they were someplace else instead of having to be a part of a business which the outside world was portraying as greedy and callous.
The bottom line (in every sense) is that F1 was paying the price for what appears to Ecclestone's obsession with making money, no matter where it comes from. If you are going to shun the roots and values of F1 by making high demands of promoters in heartlands such as France in preference for new money in Bahrain with its absence of democratic processes, then don't be surprised when the same country uses your sport for political ends.
Official promotional slogans proclaiming 'UniF1ed - One Nation in Celebration' were in wide circulation. Aside for the blatant use of the treasured 'F1' symbol, this undisputed claim made Ecclestone's tired assertion that sport and politics don't mix appear as inappropriate as a Grand Prix in this troubled country.
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.