Thoughts on the season-opening race

The British government has bowed to pressure and revoked licences for arms exports to Bahrain. The French have done the same. At the same time Bahrain’s King Hamad has asked his eldest son, Crown Prince Salman, to try to resolve the current political crisis. US President Barack Obama says that he deeply concerned about the violence in Bahrain while British Foreign Secretary William Hague said: “I am alarmed by reports of soldiers firing on protestors in Bahrain. This is an extremely worrying development. The circumstances of what happened are not yet clear, but I call on the Bahrain authorities to avoid violence and the use of excessive force and to exercise restraint. The right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly must be respected. The Bahraini Government should move quickly to carry out its commitments to transparent investigations into recent events and any alleged human rights abuses.

“I welcome the proposal of the King of Bahrain that the Crown Prince should initiate a dialogue between the different communities. Bahrain should take further steps on reforms that meet legitimate aspirations for greater social and political freedoms.”

In the current circumstances it is difficult to understand how anyone can even consider holding a Formula 1 race in this country in three weeks from now. If the violence continues or if the security clampdown succeeds in stopping the people taking to the streets, then no-one in F1 would be safe travelling to Bahrain as the Grand Prix would offer such an opportunity for protesters to make their point that there would either be violence if the authorities tried to stop them going to the circuit, or the race would be held behind a cordon of tanks and military personnel.

Neither scenario is good for Formula One.

In any case, the teams, promoter and other interested parties, such as TV companies, will have trouble getting any insurance for their crews and equipment… There is clearly a case for force majeure and while some money will be lost for those who are shipping equipment to Bahrain, rather than flying it in and out, it is probably better for F1 if none of its equipment goes into Bahrain at the moment, as it is needed just a few days later in Australia.

33 thoughts on “Thoughts on the season-opening race

  1. It would be damaging to Formula 1 if the testing and the Grand Prix were to occur. After the deaths, there is just no way this Grand Prix can occur. Frankly, there never should have been a Grand Prix in Bahrain or U.A.E.

    If the Grand Prix does go forward, I will not be watching it nor will I purchase tickets for the Canadian Grand Prix, as I was planning on.

  2. Bring on Melbourne! The rightful home of the first race. Any chance of an evening with Joe this year? I missed last year – had to fly back to NYC

  3. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office has this evening revised its travel advice to Bahrain, “We advise against all but essential travel to Bahrain until further notice.” (

    Bahrain is off, for certain.

  4. It would be a Complete and utter disgrace to hold the race, but I just can’t see Bernie willing to cancel it, not outright, not without adding a touch slimy crassness.

    For all practical purposes, the race IS canceled, the teams and their sponsors know they cannot allow it to go forth. The hard part will be to convince Bernie of this.

    What I *can* see Bernie doing is telling teams that it’s perfectly OK if *they* don’t want to go. The subtext being; don’t go and we (CVC) won’t have to pay you idiot teams your share of the race fees. (Keep in mind that Bernie always gets his race fees LONG before any a given event. In the case of Bahrain, the reported race fees are simply massive, something north of 40 to 50 million.)

    I suppose money is also part of the reason the teams decided to defer to the FIA and FOM at their meeting today. The teams likely suspect that were they to unilaterally pull out, Bernie could (would) use it to deny them their share of the race fee.

    Even without the financial considerations, I don’t blame the teams for kicking this decision to the FOM and FIA. After all, it is not the team’s job to gauge venue safety. FOM should have to do some minimal amount of work to earn the massive share of the sports’ revenue they receive.

    I do hope that Bernie does the right thing, but his moral compass has never been know to well… exist.

  5. If they ensure safety of F1 personnel by firing at demonstrators then as a fan, I would feel morally culpable if I watched the race. Social media sites could work in organising a fan boycott of the race. While his record on being happy to do business with authoritarian regimes is fairly deplorable, I expect Bernie’s got more sense than to try to go ahead with this particular race.

  6. Bahrain shouldn’t be on the calendar in the first place, although not for the same reason. Off to Melbourne it should be.

  7. The King of Bahrain seems increasingly out of the loop, pleading for calm and dialogue since the beginning of the week, without anybody, notably his own goons, listening at all. It looks to me that somebody else is calling the shots (quite literally, unfortunately) here, and that somebody may be the other side of the King Fahd Causeway… The other Gulf rulers, obviously nervous, have lost no time in making clear which side they are in the Bahrain “skirmish” (Bernie’s word)

    From all this, I see a huge problem coming up, even more worrying that the immediate concern of the Bahrain Grand Prix. There is a lot of money invested in F1 coming from the various Gulf Nations, the most obvious right now being the 30% of the Mumtalakat Holding Company, basically the Kingdom of Bahrain itself, in McLaren, but the same goes for Ferrari, and Daimler. There will be (it already started) a widening gap between the world opinion and the powers to be in the region about all this and F1 is right in the middle of it all. I guess this plays a role in the rather embarrassed and messy quotes coming from Bernie and the teams yesterday. And it will get worse before it gets better. Suddenly the Lotus vs Lotus thing starts to look like a cute sideshow.

  8. While I’m certain it would be madness to go to Bahrain in March, my guess is that Bernie will try and go back when things have quietened down.

    Would 21st century F1 put on a race hosted by regime that murders dissenters, you’ve only got to look back to the running of the Argentian Grand Prix through the 70s to find the answer.

    1. SRC,

      That was before my time but I am not sure that F1 (or anyone come to that) knew the full extent of the bad activities going on at that point in Argentina.

  9. Joe you wrote another good article! I wish Bernie would get his head out of the sand! If the race is held there are many more lives that are going to be in danger. What good is a race if it can not be enjoyed by people. Bernie and his buddies just need to cancel it.

  10. These are testing times for mega rich sports. Much as I love F1, it must find it’s conscience now, or it’ll risk being immaterial in the changing world that immediately faces us. The social network has compressed time and is changing the ‘wealth equals power’ equation that the well fed relied on previously – and quite rightly too, when it reveals so many inequalities and plainly inhuman actions committed in the name of sophisticated civilisation. I applaud your incisive and courageous reporting Joe, and hope that the F1 community is listening. We must all do our bit for fairness and equality, if we are to be truly worthy of waving the chequered flag…

  11. I think most UK insurance policies are void if the government issues travel advice against going to a country. As the FCO has just done this with Bahrain, then the race must be toast.

    Sad to miss a GP. But if we have to lose one, at least its the most boring track on the calendar.

  12. Some people do have a selective concious’, and when they see a bandwagon can’t help but jump on it, while happily ignoring other often greater atrocities that don’t fit in with their agendas.

    There are many countries that have in the past, still do today and would like to hold in the future races, that don’t treat their citizens or those of other countries very well.

    From dictatorships to authoritarian regimes, through a rather well know country involved in illegal wars, global torture camps and mass war crimes, for which the whistle blower for the war crimes is arrested but the war criminals who happily ‘light up’ a 10 year old boy and a 4 year old girl are looked upon as heroes.

    There is another country where sections of the police shoot children on the street, but I see no call for that race to be cancelled either.

    As you say Joe ‘Boycotts need Boycotters’, but does one stop with the boycotting of races or sport in general, the Olympics and world football cup would have to be scrapped immediately as some of the participants aren’t exactly squeaky clean are they.

    1. Karen,

      News item yesterday… “Nineteen police officers have been arrested in Brazil on suspicion of belonging to a death squad which has allegedly killed at least 40 people. Federal police accused the men of forming a vigilante group with the aim of “finishing off” criminals. A number of women and children without any criminal links are also believed to have fallen victim to the gang…”

      Question: If we went through Amnesty International’s record, how many Grands Prix would be left? And where would you live?

  13. There was a tweet last night that said something along the lines of “Bahrain shoots it’s people in the open, China kills them in dark hidden rooms”

    For me it put perspective on things. I *really* don’t agree with any thought of F1 going to Bahrain, certainly not for the next few months if at all this year. However, it did make me think about the Chinese GP – an event about which many fans raised various human rights issues but we still watch it.

    One thing I did wonder – has the Losail circuit got F1 approval? Could they divert freight and fans there?

    1. No. The race will not be diverted.

      And when it comes to China, what can one say? Some people will tell you that lots of supposedly civilised societies have such things going on in the background. Is it any more acceptable to have “black sites” and “shoot-to-kill” policies than other supposed human rights abuses. Where does one draw the line?

  14. Joe, you make a fair point, local gossip about the ‘disappearances’ would probably not have made it to the Argentinian press let alone the international press.

    My own memories of the races is from borrowed Motor Sports devoured as a young teenager, yet the images of soldiers in camaflague with rifles trackside always stuck with me.

    1. One of my F1 pals from that era was sniffing around the Escuela de Suboficiales de Mecánica de la Armada in Buenos Aires, having heard that this was where bad things were happening. He was arrested. He managed to convince the military that he was just an F1 reporter and got away with it. But he was very frightened by the experience…

  15. I posted this a year ago

    on February 9, 2010 at 17:45 sillyseason

    “I’ve noticed a trend where people bemoaned the influence of manufacturers and have show a certain amount of glee at their general downfall.

    I think its a case of beware what you wish for. The gap caused by their departure is rapidly being filled by governments. This has some very serious risks for the sport.

    The spats and infighting the manufacturers could get into pale when compared to the dustups in international politics.”

    Granted, I thought teams would be banned/boycotted 1st.

    The truth is that bernie sold out f1 to the highest bidder without any ethics what so ever. I learned my ethics at 12 years old in farm country. Now at 80, bernie’s finally learning that his short term dollar driven, ethic free choices have horrific long term consequences.

    And it’s not just Bahrain. Do you think Abu Dhabi, Singapore, China, or Malaysia are any better in terms of social disparity?

    But Joe, you can’t get too holyier than thou when you posted this-

    “It cannot be any worse that the first year in Bahrain when I was staying in a place where Russian hookers seemed to rule the roost…

    I am sure that it will be fine. In fact I am sure it will be rather less chaotic than living in France at the moment. I live in a country village, about 50 miles from Paris and so I am not really affected by the excesses of the French unions and their short-sighted supporters. I need fuel to get from A to B, but at this time of year A is home and B is Paris, which means that I shuttle backwards and forwards along the same route.”

    Unions are a safety valve that prevent social pressures from building up and exploding a la the mideast. The truly poor and dispossessed live in the short term because that’s all they have. You can either beat them down, break them, and exploit them as the mid east dictators do, until they explode in violence or address the fact that many humans simply can’t operate on the same long term plane you do.

    Your gut reaction to the french strikes is to break the inconvenient, short sighted unions. How is that different from the Sunni elite breaking the short sighted shites?

  16. As I sit in Austin, Texas, I sure hope that F1 takes Bahrain off the calendar. With the economic crunch we are all facing, building a new track, with public $, is not very popular. If F1 is seen as supporting a king that murders peaceful protesters…I could see protest that would stop the building of the track.

  17. Ben
    I quite agree, but our FCO advice applies only to British nationals, there many other nationalities in the team staff involved in F1 although admittedly a lot are British.

    The teams are contracted to race if there is a race to go to. If they don’t go they will be in breach of the Concorde agreement and maybe the sporting regs as well. (10.1 covers insurance and 13.2 f says: f) an undertaking by the applicant to participate in every Event with the number of cars and drivers entered.

    Of course Bernie is under huge financial pressure if he cancels the race, I do not see any way it can be squeezed back in later in the year should he wish to do so. He will have booked vast amounts of transport to and from Bahrain which will no doubt be non-refundable. TV companies round the world will want compensation and there may be many more with their hand out.

    But this is no longer about safety of the teams, it is now support for a King not in control of his own police or army, (even worse if he claims he is in control).
    It is time for all western interests to take a step back and remember that we have been supporting the King for years against the majority of his people. (in fact good old fashioned British imperialist policy, remember the Shar of Iran too? Our glorious past does not bear any moral scrutiny)

    Continuing F1 in Bahrain now will receive universal world wide condemnation. Wake up Bernie it’s over!

    Personally I am going long on oil. since I see the price doubling at least within a year. (in the UK around 85% of the price at the pumps is tax and duty so it should not double but go up another 15-20% or so, but it will have a huge impact in countries where the tax is low and supplies are from the OPEC cartel)

  18. Rogerthedodger,
    Could be right. How many more dictatorships and authoritarian regimes are going to fall to people power.
    F1 seems to be funded by quite a few of these one way or another.
    I’m not just talking about countries that host GP’s but also teams funded by them. Bernie has taken F1 down the road of ‘dirty’ money, now its payback time.

  19. It’s impossible to see how the Grand Prix in Bahrain can go ahead. Even if the situations clams down in the next few days, the legal implications if trouble reignites around the F1 event (which for various reasons isn’t all that unlikely) don’t bear thinking about. There’s also the question of insurance – what if the drivers, team members, equipment etc can’t get insurance for the Bahrain event? No insurance, no race surely?

  20. Serious situation, to be sure, as lives are being lost and liberties threatened.

    But it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving grand prix. Last year Bahrain was by far the worst of the season. So bad that people were bemoaning the death of excitement in F1 after that first race! It’s no bad thing that the season opening is in Melbourne. As far as I’m concerned, Australia should always either be the first or the last GP of any F1 season.

  21. The only reason F1 should not go, is if it’s deemed by the FIA unsafe to do so.

    F1 getting involved in politics/religion is a dangerous idea. If they say it’s safe, race. If not, don’t.

    As many commenters are suggesting not to go on principle is forgetting that if they applied the same values to other places, we wouldn’t be racing in many places. Bahrain is a sovereign nation, and like it or not they can do whatever they want to do, and handle things how they like.

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