When F1 gets to Bahrain in approximately two weeks’ time, do not be surprised to see half the cars, on the starting grid, despite the situation in the Middle Eastern kingdom.
Looking through history, there have been numerous occasions where F1 should not have allowed a race to happen. There was of course the Indianapolis incident where a race took place, despite the majority of the grid declining to race; while the event may have left a bad taste in the fans’ mouths, and may have led to the demise of the Indianapolis race, the puck sort of stops there.
Yes it was controversial for a race to occur if cars, or teams refuse to take part, but look at Japan 1976; teams refused to race due to the weather, and Lauda actually withdrew from the race citing the conditions were far too dangerous, but is it controversial? No.
However, there are other points in history where F1 has sort of disregarded the events outside of the sport and pulled full ahead to make sure their race occurs. If we look back at the South African Grand Prix in 1985 it is clear to see that F1 got something wrong; the race was mired in international controversy as nations began boycotting South African sporting events because of racial segregation in the country, called apartheid.
While most people involved in Formula One were strongly against going to the race, moreover even the commentators were against it; when James Hunt covering the race for the BBC stated speaking of apartheid and was forced by the producer to return to speaking of the actual events on track rather than what was happening outside the gates of racing paradise, he commented something to the extent of, “luckily we are not there.”
When FOCA and FIA refused to back out from the race, governments tried to ban drivers representing their nations from going, and there were teams such as Ligier and Renault that indeed did boycott the actual event, but drivers were not as persuaded; Prost and Steriff driving for British teams did take part. In the end the FIA did act; the 1985 race was the final race in South Africa until the end of apartheid.
Now it is years later and F1 again faces a similar situation, but a situation so different. In 2011, the Arab Spring began and people of nations such as Libya, Tunisia, Syria, and Bahrain rose up against the governments, or systems of government.
The uprising in Libya was supported by the West; the uprising in Tunisia happened quickly and was resolved rather quickly, and Syria is ongoing with the UN growing ever more concerned by the level of violence against civilians by the pro-government military. Bahrain, on the other hand, is sort of pushed under the rug.
Not much is said about what is happening in Bahrain; the media does not cover the situation, and uprisings in the past have been suppressed by the government and the military; yet after the protests were suppressed the media has been quiet.
Because there is not much media exposure the normal F1 fan is not really aware of the situation of the Bahrainis. Moreover, because there is no media exposure surrounding Bahrain, because it is no Libya, or Syria, there is no clear decision what F1 is to do.
Yet there is more to this situation; advertisement and social awareness has changed significantly in the last 25 years. If a company advertises at an event that is seen negatively, such as the Bahrain Grand Prix, it may result in loss of profit, loss of support and even bans on the company’s product.
The current situation in F1, where companies have a greater input into the financing of a team through direct advertisement or providing advertisement budgets through paid drivers, may result in the withdrawal of teams from the actual event.
Hence if the race does occur and you do turn in to watch, do not be surprised to only see half the grid lined up to contest the event. Sadly, however, it may not be because of FIAs care for the Bahrainis, but rather because of the sponsors’ fear of profit loss.