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.