What are the chances that Bernie Ecclestone will come to his senses and give the order to pack up the Bahrain Grand Prix and go home?
After spending the last two weeks telling anyone who would listen that there’s nothing going on in Bahrain and that the teams have nothing to worry about, we have the terrible situation of four members of the Force India team getting caught up in protests and exposed to Molotov cocktails.
As recently as last weekend, Ecclestone said to the Mirror.co.uk that, ““All the teams are happy to be there. There’s nothing happening. I know people who live there and it’s all very quiet and peaceful.”
And he did it while being burnt in effigy by protestors.
The political situation in Bahrain is too complex for a simplistic apportioning of blame and allocation of “right” or “wrong” to any of the parties involved. But, we don’t need to know who’s to blame to decide whether or not a Formula One Grand Prix should be taking place in that country.
F1 loudly and proudly proclaims its neutrality and labels itself apolitical.
ESPN quotes FIA President, Jean Todt, telling German RTL television, "It has a date on the calendar and was always planned. There has been some controversy about it, but the FIA is a sports organisation. We are only interested in sport -- not politics.”
And Todt is absolutely correct.
The problem is that the government of Bahrain and the protesters are not.
Is the FIA doing the right thing?
The government, which has been issuing promises of safety needs F1 so that they can show the world that everything is wonderful, the troubles are over and it’s business as usual.
The protesters, on the other hand, need F1 to get their protest message to the world. They will go to great lengths to attract the attention of the visiting media as the Force India team members can attest.
Even though the team members were not directly targeted and were unfortunate victims of circumstance, the incident has attracted significant media exposure and that won’t go unnoticed.
So, instead of helping normalize life in Bahrain, the race is actually fomenting more drama and violence.
The protesters have made it very clear that they will be targeting the race and earlier this week targeted a cultural event being held to promote the race. The attack ended with police using stun grenades.
F1 is no stranger to racing in places with questionable human rights records. There are races happening in China and races were held in South Africa during apartheid.
Bahrain is different in that the protests are immediate and are proving to be a direct threat teams. That is unforgivable.
Cracks are starting to appear in the veneer of agreement from the teams.
Force India’s drivers Nico Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta have, understandably, started to voice their concerns according to The F1 Times. Two of the Force India team members who were caught up in the violence have been allowed to return to England. They join a member of the Williams catering team who resigned on moral grounds over racing in the kingdom.
At this late stage, it is difficult to imagine that the race won’t proceed as planned. The teams are contractually obliged to race, but at some point the risk will exceed the potential financial penalties that may be incurred.
The only question is when that will be.