Things become more extreme

It is no great surprise to hear that there has been a bomb attack in Bahrain, which injured seven policemen, three of them seriously, with a home-made device.

The history of the world has been dotted with rulers who used repression to try to stop protest and ended up making the situation worse by radicalising the opposition and escalating the problem. A more enlightened government would have understood that the only way to deal with demands for liberalisation is to embrace them. There is a suspicion that the Crown Prince would go down that route if he was allowed to. If the current regime continues to follows its recent form attitudes will now harden and things will spiral out of control.

In the circumstances it would be utterly irresponsible for Formula 1 to go anywhere near the place in the immediate future. There is also the likelihood of more trouble if hunger striker Abdulhadi al-Khawaja dies. Protesters have specifically demonstrated against the Grand Prix and while some of those responsible might still want the race to happen, it is hard to imagine that teams and sponsors will go. It would be appalling publicity for the sport. The longer it takes to cancel the event the worse publicity will be for F1. It is time to stop this nonsense.

85 thoughts on “Things become more extreme

  1. Well said Joe.

    It’s about time some of the team bosses stood up and said they are not going to risk the wellbeing of their employees. They are a business like any other and have a duty of care to them.

    If ever there was a time when FOTA and those no longer in it, stood as one, then this is it.

  2. Joe,

    It looks to me like nobody really wants to go, but neither do they want to the the first to openly say so.

    Who do think will throw in the towel first and call off the race:

    The Bahrain authorities
    The FIA
    F1 management (Bernie & CVC et al)
    One of the teams acting individually
    One of the major sponsors
    Some other body, such as the Foreign Office, introducing do not travel advice
    Or someone else?

  3. joe, whilst i do condemn the treatment of the protesters by the bahrainian officials and sympathise with thier cause, there are strong links between the protesters and Iran. There have been reports that Iran is trying to destabilize bahrain so as to displace US fifth fleet. Iran has made repeated attemps before to destabilise bahrain so that they can increase thier regional power.

    Also what are mclaren saying about the race given they are (to the best of my knowledge) still partially owned by one of the bahrainian investment corporations ?

    1. Obviously you know better than the independent report which said that there were no proven links with Iran. I would say that Iran would like to more involved and that is why the Saudis are so twitchy, but Bahrain is not about to become an Iranian province. McLaren is 50 percent owned by the Bahrainis. They have been very quiet.

      1. with the greatest of respect to everyone here, I’m puzzled as to why so many accept joe’s opinions and value judgements as FACTS. Forgive me if I declare that I’m not ready to accept an assertion just on Joe’s say so…..

        Here in the enlightened west we don’t accept political arguements just on the say so of a sports journalist.
        Well, some may do..

        1. Sorry, but this argument is utterly flawed. The facts are the facts. It is A FACT that a bomb went off (the Bahrain government has condemned it). It is A FACT that there are battles every night with tear gas and Molotov Cocktails (the Bahrain police consultant says it is so). It is A FACT that there has been repression (you can read a very long report about that). So I am not making up any of the facts, I am simply interpreting them with some commonsense and adding the lessons of history. If you can do a better job and convince me of another story then please go ahead and do it and I will certainly listen to your reasoning if it has any merit.

        2. …a sports journalist who is a trained historian, whose dissertation was on the CIA’s covert activities in post-war South-East Asia, who has written at length on politics as it affects F1 and usually been proven correct. I’ve never met him nor spoken to him, but nearly twenty years of watching him call it right time after time means I give his words more weight than others. It’s called track record.

          1. Hear hear. I’ve only been reading this blog for about a year and a half, but… Track record established.

        3. Sorry, but that an argument even exists as to the current state of affairs in Bahrain is indicative of the situation. When it comes to politics and history, where there’s smoke there’s usually fire…And when the Baharanis are using similarly hyperbolic language as the Syrians…

  4. Also do you think the violence will reappear before the WEC race there later in the year ?

    Also I forgot to add to my other post, I still think it isn’t in F1’s best interest if the races causes the type of scenes that is currently occuring.

  5. Joe,

    If teams decide not to go but the FIA and FOM do not cancel the race, would those teams be subject to heavy financial penalties/fines?


    1. Surely they will.
      But I feel just as surely there will be a jurisdiction, somewhere, that would review and knock these little tin gods off their perches, for once and for all.
      Hopefully, there’s at least a team that has sought this.

  6. FWIW, my understanding is similar to the one you report above namely that it is not the Crown Prince but his cousin the Prime Minister who is the problem.

    The Crown Prince is also getting heavily leaned on by the Saudis who don’t want revolution – or even change – on their doorstep lest it encourage their own people.

    That said, there comes a time in life when one has to stand up for what is right, and the Crown Prince is clearly not doing that.

    1. Perhaps he doesn’t want to meet with an unfortunate accident, e.g. in a helicopter or plane crash?

  7. Wonder if it ever crosses BE’s mind that his pathetic little plots and tantrums could cause harm to people, or even cost lives. There was a time when I read “For all his failings . . .” articles hoping for a better insight into the chap, but really, if it walks like a chicken, clucks like a chicken, and lays eggs . . . .

  8. Last year the FIA and it’s President were made to look a right bunch of pillocks with there ‘will they, won’t they’ approach, and then reversal of decision and continuous umming and erring. They should be the strong ones here. Stand up and make a decision.

    1. I agree. They should not have been naive enough to think the same thing would not happen again, especially given the uncertainty in the country and the fact that there continue to be very serious problems.

  9. Once bitten, twice shy – so the saying goes. So why is/are the FIA/BCE making all the same mistakes over again?

    Utter madness, and needless fannying about. Anyone with an amoeba for a brain can see that trouble will be targeted at the GP simply because of the global coverage.

    The mind boggles!

  10. Well said Joe, There’s money and pride on the line, so people get stupid…
    If you go, be careful.

  11. When is the latest a decision not to go can be made?

    I’m assuming that the teams will fly equipment direct from China, if so I guess the “last responsible moment” will be immediately after the Chinese GP.

  12. Absolutely agree with you! And after reading all your posts on this issue, it becomes clear that you were right since minute 0… the bombing attack should be the last straw. A race in Bahrain couldn’t be called “sport”. Once again, you are right: it would be a nonsense.

    1. I think that people do need to resign over this – particularly those who thought it would be a good idea to attempt to stage a grand prix there this year. Where does the buck ultimately stop, however, and who will have the balls to step down?

  13. While I love the F1 commentary and you stories about the cars and drivers, this work, Joe, might just be the most important you do all year. Thanks for keeping our eyes (and minds) open.

  14. Bernie needs to retire. The teams, organisers and CVC need to put a younger more progressive person in charge. The fact that people need to be classified as an “un-named source” says it all. Nobody in F1 should feel threaghtened by one person. The teams, CVC, FIA circuit owners need to get together and “retire” Bernie before anymore of his comments cause serious damage to the sport.
    Mike Young

    1. Hear hear! For all that he’s done for the sport,with his unrelenting greed he has now becoming nothing but a liability to the sport,and more importantly,the people involved in it.It’s ridiculous how everyone treats him with such reverance,past glories do not permit current sins,even if everyone seems willing to write it off as him “doing his job.”

  15. With several teams needing significant sponsorship it isn’t very good for potential ethically minded sponsors to see them go and race. I guess there is a penalty for not turning up to an FIA sanctioned race (if the FIA doesn’t change their position) and a team doesn’t show up for ethical reasons?

    Whatever happens I commend your stance but take care if you go Joe.

    1. In fact thinking about it I’m surprised there isn’t any pressure from the FIAs, FOMs and the teams commercial partners yet in participating in the race.

  16. I think everyone is against going to Bahrain Joe, that’s evident from the correspondence on your blog, and I agree.

    However, the BBC has today filed a story about Chinese lawyer Ni Yulan
    whose kneecaps and feet were broken during her detention in 2002, according to Amnesty International, and who has now been sentenced to two years and eight months in jail, while her husband was handed a two-year term. “The couple are known for providing legal help to people whose homes have been seized by the government.”

    Now, you’re in China at the moment (or on your way there – assuming your visa is now valid!) so at what point does F1 exclude races for political reasons, such as the case above (and there may be other issues of a similar nature to take into account)? Is China too powerful and influential to exclude and what sort of scale should we use to grade problems such as this? You take my point.

    1. No, I do not take your point. The race is not politicised. If you stopped F1 in China you would have to stop most of the F1 races because most countries have problems if you set out to find them. You have to be sensible about this. Otherwise sport stops.

      1. I’m sure the Chinese grand prix would be instantly politicised if a Tibetan were able to set him/herself on fire anywhere near the circuit. But given how controlled everything is in China then it is unlikely to ever happen. I think Steve’s point is that there is a certain cachet in a country having a grand prix, as it is a means by which that nation can promote itself to the rest of the world. A grand prix and the Olympics could be viewed as the sporting world giving tacit permission for the regime to behave however it wishes towards its citizens. I agree with you, however, that it is not as simple as that. Where does sport draw the line? Does it stop going to events in the USA because of their alleged use of extraordinary rendition and questionable foreign policies, for example? It is a complex situation that I don’t think we will ever be able to reconcile.

        1. I think you have to use the Tianamen test. If the Chinese Grand Prix were held during the Tianamen square protests and advertised as a showcase of the countries unity and bliss whilst people were being killed during a security clampdown on the event – it should be cancelled. But while China has appalling human rights records, the people running the Grand Prix there are not the direct ruling family and the Chinese Grand Prix does not bill itself as a unifying force against outside influence. Chinese bureacracy may be legendary but the actual Grand Prix is run more or less like any capitalist business venture. Bahrain is different. It is not about human rights specifically – it is closer to an Olympic Games situation where the regime is directly responsible for promoting the event as a political act.

          Personally I felt the same way about the Chinese Olympics – but then the Olympics is notable as a political event, even though the IOC claims to be a-political. In many ways the FIA stance of political grandstanding during a Grand Prix is actually tougher than the IOC (at least in writing if not behaviour)

        1. No, but I do not think the race is going to happen now. I think the bomb will be the last nail in the coffin. Now it is just positioning the deckchairs on the Bahrain Titanic so that people in F1 can argue it was not their fault.

  17. Couldn’t agree more Joe. What’s your view on what Ecclestone has been saying about it being up to the teams to make the choice? Surely they’re contracted to attend every race?

  18. Quite right. A few weeks ago I was adamant that the race should go ahead, mostly for the sake of having 20 rounds and no 4 week break, but I’m now convinced it’s a very bad idea.

  19. Quite agree Joe, even Bernie has”apparently” now said that it is up to the teams to decide if they want to go, he cannot force them. This was then tempered with a reminder that they are under contract to go and a claim that it was not about money!

    As you say it is about time that the FIA and FOM showed the courage of their financial convictions. In particular, time Todt came out from wherever he is hiding and started acting like a president, since for most of the time he may as well not exist. (yes I know he does road safety in countries where we don’t see him but hat could be done by any of the committe) Oh how we loved to hate Max, but there are times when we could do with having him back.

    The current FIA/FOM members/directors should all have their files stamped “LMF” and then discharged/fired. (ask your old dad what that means)

  20. Hi Joe, isn’t this another absurd situation like last year when Bernie clearly had no real intention of a race going ahead, he just wanted somebody else to make the decision and therefore take the finacial fall?

  21. It only takes one protester to get through the gates, using a valid ticket or pass, and then anything could happen. The last 10 years or so have illustrated how difficult it is to protect people against one determined individual as opposed to an organised army or faction. F1 and Bernie would be fools to take the risk. Whatever happens F1 isn’t going to come out of this well as the powers that be have made plenty of public noise about going to Bahrain, even if they back out they will still look like fools (at the very least).
    F1 missed a chance to do something positive, even if only by being passive and saying they won’t go because of the unrest, now they will look like the fearful, greedy, opportunistic financial sharks that they are. No integrity, it’s no wonder the middle east looks at the west with distrust and suspicion.

    1. That’s it exactly — a complete lockdown of the whole country would be useless if just one person inside the circuit decides to do something precipitous. As the university Boat Clubs now know.

      Someone being shot down by security forces trying to get into the paddock or onto the track — or God forbid actually making it onto the track during a session and putting himself in the path of a car — would mean a loss of many more millions for all concerned than cancelling the race.

      To say nothing of the personal losses for Uncle Bernard, actually, who would surely be denuded of all F1™KING POWER almost instantaneously. It’s quite bold of him actually — he might be staking everything that he has worked for over the past 40 years on whether or not a regiment of Bahraini security personnel get every decision absolutely right over the course of the race meeting.

  22. I see Bernie made the first step in removing himself from the equation on the BBC this AM by stating that……… ‘it’s the teams decision whether or not we go’.

    Really ?

    1. The teams are contracted to race in all races held, this is laid out both in the Sporting Regs 13.2 f for the teams and for the Promoter thus:
      8.1 An application to promote an Event must be made to the ASN of the country in which the Event is to take place, which will apply to the FIA. It must be accompanied by written evidence that the promoter has made arrangements to secure the participation of competitors, which arrangements are conditional only upon the FIA entering the Event on the Championship calendar.

      The Concorde Agreement (it is said) also requires participation in all events.

      Thus for Bernie to say “Its up to the teams is not at all accurate since they are bound both by the FIA under the Regs and by Bernie through the CA, if they do not go they can face all sorts of dire punishment, possible exclusion, fines etc from the FIA and from Bernie, loss of prize/tv money, posibly all of it, depending on the individual wording of each team’s CA.

      1. Thought so.

        As another little ‘taster’. Bernie further expanded on his position about an hour ago on BBC Radio 5 Live by adding :-

        ‘It’s down to the teams whether or not we go to Bahrain. It’s nothing to do with me. It’s not my decision’.

        He then added as an aside

        ‘Anyway, we hear all these stories in the tabloids are we sure they’re all true?’.

        I think that last bit was just a littke attaboy for the organisers’

        1. Someone should tell him to talk to the Bahrain Police Force. They will tell him what is really happening.

        2. FOTA has now responded that it’s not up to them but to the FIA.
          Lotus is upset that Bahrain has quoted from their confidential report, from Bahrain visit, this was sent to all team principles, one of the teams leaked it to Bahrain. Not too difficult I would imagine

      2. I would love to see a team call Bernie’s bluff. Breach the contract, skip a race, and watch what happens when Bernie tries to impose a penalty against some civil disobedience made in the name of peace and human rights. I’m willing to bet that the backlash would be so unified against Bernie it would make an excellent statement and huge sums of credibility and respect would swing from BE to said team.

        Not to understate the importance of prize money, but Ferrari gets a few extra million in prize money each year, so I say they’re in a good position to take a risk. F1 needs Ferrari, they have nothing to fear.

        Better yet, cancel the race.

        1. But you see the penalty would be correct, it’s all about contracts, rules and the Concorde Agreement. Remember F1 is non-political.

          1. I agree that a penalty is justified for breaking a rule. That’s something the team will have to accept. But it doesn’t mean it still can’t or shouldn’t be done.

            And rules get broken…free to air TV?

  23. Joe,

    Keep banging the drum for common sense, it’s all you can do.

    The problem seems to be as much one of egos and not wanting to blink first as much as it is one of the F1 community not being aware of or caring about the situation. I agree with you that the longer the decision is left, then the worse it looks. Looking from the outside, it is unthinkable that the race can go ahead, so why delay the decision? If the race is canceled very late, ostensibly due to fears of disruption by the opposition, then my fear is that there will be even worse recriminations within Bahrain. The loss of face for the ruling family will inevitably lead to more distance between the two sides.

    I really wish the FIA/CRH had learned their lesson with the way the calendar was messed about last year. Surely, the easiest thing would have been to take a position that the reasons for last years cancellation were still valid for this year and not include it on the calendar. F1 is constantly compared to The Olympics as a global sporting event. I’m sure even the IOC would draw the line at holding their games in a country that is effectively having a civil war.

    If F1 really sees itself as a force for uniF1cation (I hate that unsubtle piece of marketing), then they should withhold the race until the country stops tearing itself apart. It is clear that the event is something the ruling family want to see. F1 itself could be used as gentle leverage and motivation towards a peaceful dialogue without being embroiled in this politicised poker game, where there is no obvious gain for the sport (I’m discounting individual financial interests here). Assuming the Crown Prince is largely a “good guy”, could the supposed loss of the money, business and prestige F1 brings give greater weight to his position?

    What impact do you think a cancellation would have on the Bahraini interests in F1 teams such as McLaren? If they decide to take their toys or become too poisonous to be associated with, do you think they would pull their investments entirely?

    As always, thanks for the opinions and be safe.


  24. And if any team decides they will not go, BE has the right to sue them…
    Just the position of power he craves….

    The FIA have to step up.
    That is the only option to protect the teams.
    Bernie will not.


  25. Joe, whilst I suspect a U-turn and the FIA will cancel the GP with support from the Teams and Bernie holding up his hands, would it be an idea that in case it does go ahead you and all other (British) journalists only report on the situation instead of the grandprix out of protest?

      1. What is your job then? To report on both the race and the politics? Who says? The choice is yours and just as you choose to report on politics as well as the race, you could choose not to report on the race. If you don’t believe this then you really can’t see the wood for the trees which is a shame. It is your choice to go to the race and it is your choice to report on it. No one is forcing you to do so and you don’t even have to give any expalantion as to why you choose to act in a certain way – your decision tells us all we need to know.

  26. Anyone see the Boat Race at the weekend and what happened to that race?

    Imagine what would happen if someone did the same and deliberately stood on the racing line? (not the same as what happened at Silverstone years ago).

  27. If the kind of links the journalists on Twitter are retweeting are anything to go by there’s an awful lot of people in the circus who don’t want to go but aren’t saying anything. The F1 juggernaut keeps heading for disaster.

    Joe, come back in one piece.

  28. Don’t understand why the teams are not protesting going to this event. Not withdrawing, but issuing statements that they are forced to attend contractually but are opposed to the politicization of the race. We would prefer NOT TO GO!

    1. Count how many teams have no ties to that part of the world through ownership, sponsors or other suppliers.

      Of those how many can afford to pick a fight with Bernie – that is exactly how many are willing to speak out publically.

  29. I work each year in medical marshalling at Albert Park. And I haven’t forgotten the appalling behaviour shown by the Bahraini authorities to medical and hospital staff who attempted to treat injured protestors during pro democracy
    demonstrations over the last couple of years. Stuff the race. And all its asssociated greed and politics. It’s not worth a single life, regardless of whose it might be.

  30. This may be the trigger for the UK Foreign Office to issue ‘do not travel’ guidance, which would take things out of F1s hands.

    Thanks Joe for your coverage of this issue, by the way. It was really grim to see the protesters in their mock drivers’ overalls protesting and I think a powerful message to people in F1. It’s insanity to go. All it would take is one person to jump in front of a car…

  31. Here here, well said Joe. And now Bernie is saying that it is up to the teams if they want to go. I guess we will know their decision on Monday when equipment leaves from China either for Europe or Bahrain.

  32. Who makes the call not to go now? FIA? The teams? Or is this one of those collective decisions that everyone will arrive at (when everyone gets to China) so that no one individual/ organisation cops the fallout? Also, Martin Whitmarsh’s position must be difficult – given Bahrain’s stake in McLaren and his role in FOTA.

  33. I’m still amazed of how quiet Jean Todt has been of late given that when the music stops it may be his chair that is missing.

  34. If it does (shudder) go ahead, then will B.E be there in person? Or will he decide it’s probably best to watch it at home, on telly?

  35. Surely it is difficult for the likes of Mclaren and Ferrari to back down as they are heavily invested by bahrain, have i got that right joe?…..

  36. Here is another thought… I understand the consequences of this but…

    Maybe the race should go ahead. If all is fine then we wipe our collective brows, uncross our fingers and all is good.

    If something does happen then the problems in Bahrain will get much more attention world-wide and Bernie will get the kick in the pants he needs.

    Sort of make or break I guess. I know it puts lives at stake but it could also resolve several problems in one go…

    Of course, it would be better if the whole thing was just cancelled but it doesn’t look like that bit of common sense is going to happen.

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