FEBRUARY 16, 2011
Bahrain GP in doubt?
There are concerns that the Bahrain Grand Prix in the middle of March might have to be cancelled, and the race organisers have issued a statement saying that they are monitoring the unrest in the middle-eastern country and will respond accordingly - as the country is the latest Arab state to face dissent following the revolts that have toppled Tunisia and Egypt.
In the wake of the unrest in Egypt this past week, thousands of protesters gathered Wednesday at the Pearl Roundabout, just outside of Manama - the site of a landmark of a massive pearl that sits atop a set of arches. Police were nowhere to be seen, evidently trying to avoid further confrontations that have left two dead and many injured over the past two days.
The civil unrest has caused concerns that the Grand Prix will have to be cancelled, and that a decision will need to be made soon as the race is planned for March 13th - but more urgently an F1 test is scheduled to begin the week before the race on March 3rd. Teams fear that if conditions do not improve they will face the prospect of endangering personnel and risk having equipment trapped or damaged.
A local group has warned that the Grand Prix could become the target of anti-government protests. Nabeel Rajab, a representative of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, said, "For sure F1 is not going to be peaceful this time. There'll be lots of journalists, a lot of people looking and [the police] will react in a stupid manner as they did today and yesterday. And that will be bloody, but will be more publicised. This will not stop, especially now when people have died. I don't think it's going to stop easily."
Shaikh Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa, CEO of the Bahrain International Circuit, said in a statement, "The safety of all Bahraini nationals, expats and overseas visitors is a priority at all times in the Kingdom and, at the Bahrain International Circuit, our focus at the present time is on delivering another successful event in the form of the 2011 Gulf Air Formula 1 Bahrain Grand Prix. We are monitoring the situation very closely indeed in association with the relevant authorities, and will respond appropriately to any further developments."
F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone has also expressed concern, but thinks it is too early to call off the event. Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, Ecclestone said, "The danger is obvious, isn't it? If these people wanted to make a fuss and get worldwide recognition it would be bloody easy, wouldn't it? You start making a problem on the start grid in Bahrain and it would get worldwide coverage."
"It's hard to establish exactly what is going on. I'm speaking with the Crown Prince later on. We're watching events closely. We'll rely on what they think the right thing to do is. He is a very realistic person. I have never had any problems in Bahrain in the past and I'm happy to walk around town there. But we don't know now. The world is changing."
Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa went on television on Tuesday, saying that the deaths will be investigated and that a committee will be created to look at possible reforms in the country. The King said, "We will ask the legislative authority to look at this phenomena and to suggest the necessary legislation which will solve this in a way that will benefit the homeland and its citizens. The kingdom of Bahrain is a country of law and constitutional institutions. We have a law that organizes peaceful demonstrations that was decreed by an elected committee. The right to express one's opinion is a right that is given by the constitution and has been organized by the law which we must all follow."
There is growing fear in government circles, as demonstrators have started to call for the removal of the royal family. Part of the dissent lies in that the royal family are Sunni Muslims while two-thirds of the population are Shiites, who claim they face discrimination. Bahrain is a big ally of America, and the country houses the headquarters of the U.S. Navy's Fifth fleet.
If conditions in the country continue to worsen it is quite possible that the race will be cancelled. If that were to happen, it would be hard to see a slot on this year's calendar in which the race could be rescheduled.