APRIL 10, 2012
Growing uncertainty over Bahrain
An unnamed 'leading' F1 team principal's opinion, widely reported by the national press in the UK, has cast doubts over the viability of the Bahrain GP, scheduled to be the fourth round of this year's world championship on April 22.
Last year's Bahrain GP was scheduled to open the season but was postponed then ultimately cancelled as a result of civil unrest in the country.
Thus far, the official line from the teams is that it is down to motor racing's governing body, the FIA, race organisers or the F1 commercial rights holders (CVC Capital Partners and Bernie Ecclestone) to make decisions on whether to go ahead.
Now, however, the team principal, who did not wish to be named, has admitted: "I feel very uncomfortable about going to Bahrain. If I'm brutally frank, the only way they can pull this race off without incident is to have a complete military lock-down there. And I think that would be unacceptable, both for F1 and for Bahrain. But I don't see any other way they can do it."
The situation worsened yesterday with reports of a home-made bomb exploding in Manama, injuring seven policemen. In response to media questioning, F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has said that he cannot force teams to race in Bahrain if they do not want to go.
It is understood that a decision about whether the race goes ahead could come as late as this coming weekend in Shanghai, a race that FIA president Jean Todt is due to attend.
The plight of deteriorating civil rights activist Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, hunger striking in protest at a life prison sentence, has heightened tension in Bahrain but John Yates, a former Metropolitan Police commissioner in the UK now working for the Bahriani interior ministry, has claimed that unrest is localised and warned that those disrupting the race would be treated harshly.
The chief concern among F1 teams and suppliers is the safety of their staff. Last year's race became untenable due to insurance cover being potentially invalidated but, as things stand, it is believed this would not currently be an issue unless governmental departments issue official travel warnings.
For wider ranging political reasons, that is believed to be unlikely. Privately, team principals are hoping that the FIA and F1 commercial rights holders will act responsibly with safety given priority over commercial or political considerations.