A Grand Prix for Qatar?

With Bahrain continuing its slide towards totalitarianism, with the banning last week of the main opposition newspaper Al-Wasat, the hopes that Formula 1 will ever return to the Gulf state are fading. Bahrain is under military rule, in a state of emergency. The government is trying to convince people that life is returning to normal after weeks of protests, but there are reports of more than 800 arrests and 150 people having simply disappeared and it is clear that the problems in Bahrain have not gone away and that the authorities are simply pushing the lid down on the problems and hoping that they will disappear.

In any case, there is no real reason left for a Grand Prix. The country used the event to portray an image of being an enlightened and “business friendly” place. The activities in recent weeks have shown that this is clearly not the case and there is little likelihood of that image changing until there is a new government. Thus Formula 1 can do very little for Bahrain, and Bahrain can do little good for Formula 1. To support such a regime would undermine the value of the F1 brand. Thus the only real way forward if to negotiate a settlement of the contract and let each party get on with what they are doing.

There is no real problem for F1 in the region because Qatar will leap into the breach if given the opportunity. Qatar has the money needed for a Grand Prix. It has a suitable racing facilty at Losail, near Doha, and it is beginning to understand the value of the sport. The country has enjoyed some success in offroad events with Sheikh Hamed Bin Eid Al-Thani and with Nasser al-Attiyah, who recently won the Dakar Rally, while Sheik Khalid bin Hamad Al-Thani has invested heavily in drag racing with the Al-Anabi team in the NHRA in the United States. The country has also invested in the automobile industry, specifically as a major shareholder in the Volkswagen-Porsche alliance.

Incidentally, we hear that several teams are involved in organising an F1 street demonstration in Doha in the months ahead.

42 thoughts on “A Grand Prix for Qatar?

  1. Joe,

    They just happen to hold night MotoGP races there at Losail.

    Will fit in 100% with Bernies aims .

  2. Politics of Qatar takes place in an undemocratic framework of an absolute monarchy whereby the Emir of Qatar is not only head of state, but also the head of government.

    There is no electoral system. Political parties are banned.

    The right place to go for Formula One ?

    1. sombrero,

      All true. But they are not trying to suppress a minority. If we applied ules like that F1 could not go to China either…

  3. “To support such a regime would undermine the value of the F1 brand.”

    Previously when you were reporting on the possible cancellation of the race, hadn’t you said that F1 shouldn’t be involved in the politics of the situation and only be concerned with safety instead of messing around with political statements?

    1. Jason,

      F1 should not mess with politics. But if the politics messes with the image of F1 it is a different thing.

  4. Hi Joe,
    interesting piece.

    I had it in my mind that if an event doesn’t take up its allocated slot in the calendar (and Bernie was clever in getting the Barainees themselves to pull the event) then it can be made to forfeit it place the following year. I believe this was a threat held over the Korean entry if had not been completed on time.

    With the pressure on the calendar growing would it not make more sense to offer this space to one of the new tracks i.e. Russia or Austin and take the pressure off some of the threatened classic European venues?

  5. “Incidentally, we hear that several teams are involved in organising an F1 street demonstration in Doha in the months ahead.”

    Isn’t “demonstration” an unfortunate choice of words in this context?

  6. Worse than that : China IS suppressing minorities. When this contrat is over it would be wise to think about twice …

    I can understand that Abu Dhabi stays in the calendar. There’s a allready a GP contract and it was signed before the gulf turmoil.

    There’s no contract for F-1 in Qatar and it’s not the right time to arrange one.

    Going there now is messing with politics.

  7. I have a better idea, we have a grand prix in Turkey at a marvellous circuit in a growing country and a young population.

    We also have our token totalitarian grand prix in Abu Dhabi.

    How about we take that as the middle eastern grand prix and let the remaining arab emirs, sultans and crown princes focus on what they do best (screwing their populations over).

    I don’t see the point in having more than Abu Dhabi (and I don’t like that event either, but whatever ), in the region.

  8. As a Brit living in Qatar and very much enjoying the experience all I can say is… bring it on Bernie!

    The country has hosted the Asian Games, the Asian Football Cup and has been awarded the 2022 FIFA World Cup…I assure you a F1 race would not be a problem.

    John.

  9. I believe they are quite successfully suppressing the gay community with both custodial and corporal sentences.

    I’m not sure a 21st century sport like F1 has a place in a medieval society.

  10. Bernie likes money and night racing, something Qatar can provide, shame Losail is so dull.

    Although Bahrain has clearly overstepped the line, F1 already visits some countries with questionable political reputations. So long as there aren’t protesters being rounded up then I doubt anybody would flinch over Qatar’s politics.

  11. The Losail Circuit is a modern facility. The possibility to hold a night race is certainly a worthy ($$$) point of interest Bernie will not overlook. But even though it’s a wide circuit with a 1km long straight; it’s twisty, windy and slow infield would make races even more processional than Bahrain was last year.

    At least money doesn’t seem to be a problem.

    Taking a look at the track map, I see two easy fixes to address the problem with the infield. They can either create a straight that would create a shortcut from turn 2 exit to turn 6 exit, or they can create a path from turn 6 exit to turn 10 exit.

    I’ve made a quick drawing of my suggestions. The first one is the in blue, the second in red. If you gtake a look at google map, or any aerial shot, you’ll see there is enough room for these chances. Either one would make the circuit much faster and thus distinguished. They could even boast over Abu Dhabi by claiming their circuit is faster and much more interesting and challenging for the pilots.

    By the way, have you heard anything about Abu Dhabi revamping its layout for the GP this year?

  12. Joe, have you been to Bahrain yourself in the previous month? You shouldn’t believe everything the western media tell you. Bahrain is a very peaceful country with a very small percentage of the population causing unrest. A bit like the riots in London last week. You don’t see events in the UK being stopped because of that unrest. But you make it sound like the next Libya.
    It was very professional of the Kingdom to pull the event themselves and not leaving it to Bernie. Although the Bahrain GP doesn’t always offer the most exciting racing it’s an amazing place. There is no reason why they couldn’t host it there tomorrow or even in 7 months time.

    Jenson button almost got car jacked in Brazil last year but that hasn’t caused them to pull the event this year nor has it stopped them visiting other countries with questionable political reputations.

  13. “All true. But they are not trying to suppress a minority.”

    Joe, if there’s no freedom of expression I don’t see how you can know that.

    We should hope the lesson of Bahrain is taken on by see-no-evil Bernie, but I’m not putting money on it.

  14. joe, also interesting is that mclaren are doing a london demo this july with hugo boss. Regent street again.

  15. Slight problem at Losail. There aren’t any grandstands worth the name. But then, if you’re going to start your race at 3am (as the MotoGP was), you’re probably not going to get spectators anyway. Sponsors and the FIA might not be too keen on that concept, though. Still, it’s obviously a good thing it doesn’t rain there. Which means (pace Adelaide 1989 and 1981) that it’s virtually guaranteed to plummet down …

  16. Joe,
    After the goings-on of the last few months in the Middle East this could be Bahrain all over again. Small country, pots money, absolute monarchy, seen as friendly to the west, monarchy wants enhance its image on the world stage, all sounds a bit too familiar for my tastes. Remember folks, did we view Bahrain as an oppressive regime? It is only human nature that you dont want to loose control and that involves suppressing your enemies, thats what absolute monarchies do.
    As for politics and sport they should not clash but this is not the ideal world. F1 is run by greedy people, thats why it goes to China and other countries with totalitarian regimes. Greed ,nothing else.
    Sport and politics will clash. What sport must do is avoid politics because politics will always use sport for its own ends. To run a sport you have to safeguard the sports integrity, not use it for personal greed whilst dressing it up as progress.
    Sombrero, you are a wise man.

  17. One word for Bernie…actually a few words for Bernie….no more Middle East tracks and dates. Get Brno on the calendar and call it a day.

  18. Luke don’t be so blinkered, can reporting be biased, yes of course, but when people are dying on the streets that is not something the press fabricate, and to compare it to the trouble in London last week is an ignorant slur on the people who have lost their lives in Bahrain.

    Joe is an experienced reporter who wont just believe any information, he has the reputable sources that he trust based on years of experiences.

    So do you not believe what is going on in Libya at the moment too.
    Maybe you should look up http://twitter.com/acarvin

    and see his live feed of people on the grounds comments!

  19. Neil – I am not questioning Joe’s experience. I believe he does a brilliant job. I just think only people who have been to Bahrain in the last month can comment on the actual safety in the country.

    When did I say that I don’t believe what’s going on in Libya? You just proved my exact point. Reading stories from people on the ground in these countries shows exactly what it’s like. Have you read any live feeds of people in Bahrain in the last few weeks? How many people have died in Bahrain compared to Libya? You can’t compare them. I’m not saying it’s the perfect place but nowhere is these days. You have more chance of being shot in some areas of London these days than you are in Bahrain.

  20. Oh, and do tell more about the exemplary democracy in Qatar…

    There is wrong on all sides in Bahrain at the moment, and over the last few weeks, it’s a shame that your reporting is so one-sided. Still, you seem convinced.

    1. Nelson,

      My reporting is not one-sided. I am reporting the view from inside F1. You may be there and wanting life to return to normal, but you cannot ignore the fact that there is repression going on. If you forget that go and drive around the Pearl Roundabout and look for the pearl… As I have explained in the blog, we could see the signs of that years ago when we went there and just because it was shoved under the carpet did not mean that it was not there. I am not saying that there are not elements of society being encouraged by external forces, notably Iran, but are you telling me that there is not external influence from Saudi Arabia on the other side? Bahrain may have the veneer of a peaceful and friendly place, but unfortunately in recent months that veneer was torn away and the reality was exposed. And it was ugly. It is a nation with a serious problem and anyone who does not understand that is either blind or not looking closely enough. As to the situation in Qatar, is there a Shiite majority? Are they using their money wisely, to the benefit of all their citizens? Is there any hint of an uprising? The fact that there are not elections does not mean that a country is inherently bad. A benign dictatorship can sometimes be much more successful than a nascent democracy. Bahrain tried to do that, but when push came to shove and people wanted more, the reaction was disastrous. Bahrain will now pay for that mistake, whether people who live there want to admit it, or not.

  21. HaHa Joe,
    Got the nasty people all wrong again…………
    Just rolled off the sofa laughing.
    After all Hitler did get things done!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  22. Rightho Joe, so Qatar is a “benign dictatorship”, but Bahrain is an “inherently bad”, “ugly” country which must “pay for that mistake”. Glad to see there are no prejudices or entrenched assumptions at play here!

    Look, you’ve obviously never liked Bahrain since the first time you came here, probably because of what it represents in terms of Bernie’s “buy a GP” era. But if you think it’s any worse than the rest of the region you are sadly mistaken – I would argue that in fact Bahrain has been ahead of the rest of the Gulf in terms of elections etc, but sadly all that is now being forgotten because of some fairly catastrophic misjudgments on all sides, particularly the opposition.

    Ask yourself Joe, could you see any other Gulf country in which the Crown Prince would go on TV and offer what was offered in Bahrain?

    Ok, that wasn’t full-fledged European-style democracy, but it was pretty remarkable by Gulf standards and more than any regional pro-democracy campaigner could have dreamed about even a couple of months ago. Yet the opposition rejected it – why? Cowardice? Intimidation by the violent extremists? Outside interference? Only they know. But your characterisation of the government is grossly unfair.

    I promise this is my last response – I said I wouldn’t come back, and I regret I did.

    (PS: apologies if my first post was offensive personally – it wasn’t intended to be, but my worry – which may have been expressed too forcefully! – is that if you are going to get involved in domestic and regional politics, you should at least do so on the basis of an accurate understanding, rather than the lazy assumptions and “narratives” which are sadly so common in the Western mass media)

    1. Nelson,

      I am not biased at all. I liked Bahrain. I saw its weaknesses and enjoyed going there after the initial period getting used to it. I am simply giving my opinion. I have no axe to grind. You can think what you like.

  23. As a resident of Qatar, I can assure you that if they want to do something, they will pour all the cash in to make sure it gets done, but due to the long winded way it takes to make decisions, and get authority to do stuff, there will no doubt be some ragged edges.
    Losail circuit, is not particulally spectator friendly, with only one grandstand on the long straight, it is also very flat, so it is a bit like watching a GP on the outskirts of Wisbech, it is hard to tell who is where. But having said that it is all changable. The bizarre thing about watching racing here is that because it is not a normal commercially competeive environment, the cicuit is usually devoid of sponsors banners etc.
    On a couple of other points people have made, the motogp started at 10pm not 3am.
    The street demo sounds interesting, but I am struggling to think of a road in good enough condition for them to run on!!

  24. i am not sure how many of you have been to Qatar, Doha or even Lwsail, i have driven on the circuit quite a few times, it is modern, has excellent facilities and has a good tight circuit, Qatar is an amazing modern country and although hot in the summer it is pretty cold in the winter, NIGHT RACES! the circuit is well lit, the garages have aircon and have plenty of room, it is a much better track to drive than the ones i have driven on in the UK, track days start around september and racing in october, and yes they do have grandstands! so it would be a great idea to move the racing to QATAR
    ZAINA ALSABAH a femail circuit driver!!!

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