Skip navigation
F1 Opinion 25

Why Formula 1 musn’t go to Bahrain

“Everyone is more or less mad on one point”.

These words of Rudyard Kipling come to mind when I see the sport of Grand Prix racing fumbling over the rights and wrongs of traveling to Bahrain.

As I write, we are all quite naturally focused on pre-season testing and what, if anything, we can learn from the few days at Jerez, and this week in Barcelona. This is all as it should be. We are, for the most part, more interested in what is happening on the track rather than what may be happening off the track.

opinion  Why Formula 1 musnt go to BahrainRon Dennis succinctly described pre-season testing as “the winter world championship” and we all know that times recorded in Spain in February will probably mean very little when it comes to the racing itself.

Last week, at our Hall of Fame event, I spoke to Adrian Newey about what we may read into the tests at Jerez and the Circuit de Catalunya. He reminded me that, unless you know the detail of everyone’s fuel load at a given time, the answer is pretty much nothing at all. We know the cars are ugly, we know the Red Bull will be quick, and we know Ferrari has some aerodynamic problems. An F1 car, these days, is in a continual state of development and we likely won’t have a true guide to form until May at the earliest. The only certainty is that the 2012 World Champion will be the man with the most points.

But back to Bahrain. The teams are due in Manama on April 18, ahead of the Grand Prix on the following Sunday, so there isn’t a huge amount of time left for the sport to make up its mind about a return to Sakhir. The organisers were due to launch the event to the world’s media last weekend despite continued pressure from, among others, British politicians. And despite the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights calling on the teams to boycott the race. So what is the right thing to do?

opinion  Why Formula 1 musnt go to BahrainBernie Ecclestone, speaking after the most recent violent uprising on February 14, the anniversary of last year’s ‘day of rage’ in the capital city, said he supports a return to Bahrain. “I don’t think it’s anything serious at all and it doesn’t change our position in any shape or form,” he said, “but if the people in Bahrain said it wouldn’t be good for us to go, then I would think again. That’s what they said last year.” So we know where Mr E stands on this. What we do not know is how the sport’s influential blue chip sponsors and partners, like Vodafone, feel about the situation. It is always possible that global corporations will not want to be associated with a race in a country that has struggled to implement a genuine programme of social reforms that somehow satisfies both Sunnis and Shias.

I have spent time in Bahrain on two separate occasions and have seen first hand the differing lifestyles of the two sides in this desert kingdom that, outwardly at least, exists in comfort and opulence for some and in strife for many. Tension between Sunni and Shia is as old as Islam itself and Formula One has no place in this latest struggle of the two religious factions. Of course international politics, centred around the Arab Spring, are not the day-to-day business of F1 motor racing and some may say that the two are in no way connected. But this is not an answer, not a solution to what I believe is a potential trap for the sport and its image.

opinion  Why Formula 1 musnt go to BahrainWhy walk into the crossfire? Why take the risk? Formula One does not need the Bahrain Grand Prix and Bahrain certainly does not need to stir up unnecessary tensions. As sporting entertainment, F1 faces environmental pressures. As a global business, it faces financial pressures in an unstable and depressed economy. So which is more, or less mad? Go ahead or cancel? If the race is cancelled, so is the risk of violent backlash. If the race is cancelled, the world at large will say F1 did the right thing at a difficult time. The decision to postpone, or cancel, should be made now so that we can return to what F1 does best. Great motor racing for the best cars and best drivers in the world, and preferably in places that are not in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Add your comments

25 comments on Why Formula 1 musn’t go to Bahrain

  1. Bruno, 24 February 2012 10:49

    Agree completely. The race should be cancelled.
    And I would dearly love to see it replaced by a GP in Europe.

  2. Lewis Lane, 24 February 2012 11:45

    Bernie closing his eyes and thinking of the money. As usual.

  3. Nigel (not that one), 24 February 2012 11:54

    F1, like all sport, should theoretically remain seprarate from politics. America and Gt Britains recent track record on human rights is pretty questionalble, as is China’s, Italy’s political system is riddled with high level coruption and in the past I beleive Brazillian police have been accused of making homeless children ‘disappear’. Every country has it’s own fair share of sleaze and once you get political you paint yourself into a corner where you can’t compete anywhere.

    However, the big difference here is twofold, firstly I believe the race in Bahrain is being used specifically as a political tool, to spread an anti democratic government’s propaganda to the world. The cameras will turn up and show hundreds of millions of people a ‘happy’ country, waving flags and living in peace. It probably won’t be able to show the gun barrels in the shadows that are ensuring the correct levels of happiness.

    In such circumstances I think it’s fine to say that as a non political body you refuse to be used as a political tool and should withdraw. In this case you are not becoming political in your withdrawl, you are refusing to become political with your participation.

    Secondly and probably more importantly, the people of Bahrain will suffer a horrendous military crackdown (with inevitable loss of life) to ensure the race is ‘peaceful’ and the attendees will have to endure massive risks to thier personal safety for the sake of a car race. Niether is a great idea.

    In short, like everyone else, i think the race must be cancelled.

  4. Pat O'Brien, 24 February 2012 12:05

    Why take the risk? Filthy lucre, of course.

  5. rob widdows, 24 February 2012 13:13

    Interesting comments here and thanks for your views on a very difficult and complex subject. It does appear that I hold a distinctly minority view, apart of course from those who have contributed above. Mr Ecclestone said yesterday that the Bahrain Grand Prix will definitely go ahead and that the teams are happy to go. So, we have to assume the race will go ahead in April as planned. I do, however, stand by what I have written above and I sincerely hope that there is no violence or protest caused by the event taking place. Perhaps the ruling party will take some very firm steps to ensure that there is no trouble. I certainly hope that Formula One has no reason to regret the position it has taken in this volatile situation.

  6. Bruno, 24 February 2012 13:28

    Rob, we as readers, as people, as well as followers of motor racing, do live in a real world.
    Great that you will be standing by your view.

  7. C C, 24 February 2012 13:39

    A good article.

    Putting all the politics to one side, you could really reduce the argument to this:

    The track is poor, the fan base is small, The drivers don’t like the circuit, nor do the arm chair fans, so if we don’t go, your average F1 fan wouldn’t be remotely bothered. Its like having a round the world cruise booked, and then agonsing about whether to take that rainy weekend in Skegness the week before.

    That may appear crude and i totally sympathise with the plight of the people of Bahrain, but to be honest, this GP is one of the “Lets get this one over” ones, so lets not go, not only for valid political reasons, but because its simply a poor GP.

  8. ncastle, 24 February 2012 15:44

    I suppose there’s another side to this argument where sport can be part of the healing process after conflict. I’m not at all convinced that F1 is somehow on a suicide mission by going through with this race. It in fact seems more like F1 is attempting to go to a higher plateau (one often occupied by football) by being indifferent to the political and economic realities of a particular place.

    And for what it’s worth, my read on what’s happening in Bahrain is that the government has implemented a fairly significant number of reforms in response to last year’s unrest. Good for them. And good on F1 as well for seeing this not just as a business, but a vehicle (awful pun, I know) to bring people together — sometimes when they need it most.

  9. ali, 24 February 2012 16:32

    F1 Bahrain will be great for the country. Bahrain needs a sporting event to bring the crowds together, to promote a society of mutual respect, to promote peace. F1 will be a great event and I will definitely be attending.

  10. ccsabetha, 24 February 2012 16:51

    “Tension between Sunni and Shia is as old as Islam itself and Formula One has no place in this latest struggle of the two religious factions.”

    I don’t see how that standard can honestly be maintained across all F1 races. Are we also going to cancel the Chinese Grand Prix just before this so F1 doesn’t find itself in the struggle between the communist government and different ethnic and religious groups in China? Unlikely. Yet it’s the Chinese government who remain completely unabashed about their treatment of such groups despite a huge outpouring international criticism. The government in Bahrain, however, solicited an independent commission to study and criticize it’s response to protests in 2011 and is now in the process of implementing that commission’s suggested reforms.

  11. rob widdows, 24 February 2012 16:52

    As with all complex and potentially emotional subjects, I entirely accept that there are many aspects to consider, not least the people who actually live and work in Bahrain. And I would not pretend to know how the majority feel. I do, however, accept that a major sporting event can be a good thing for a country in conflict. But there is a difference between football and Formula One in that F1 is an overt expression of great wealth and privilege and at times it may be seen as existing in a world of its own. Not deliberately, and not in an antagonising way, but just by its very nature. If I knew that those who live there were convinced that the Grand Prix is a good thing, then who are we in Britain to argue? My views in the orginal article, above, are based entirely on the perception we have in Britain of how the kingdom is currently governed. And that is how we must make a judgement if we want to make a judgement.

  12. Michael Spitale, 25 February 2012 00:50

    I want to agree with Rob, but then I think about races in China and India and no one complains

  13. linda williams, 25 February 2012 11:45

    Rob, I don’t think you are a minority because thousands in Bahrain who want their basic human rights, and self determination, agree with you. I have been tweeting with Sunni & Shia from Bahrain for 13 months. I’ve tweeted with those who do and those who do not want democracy. There is a divide, but the situation is not, at root,sectarian. The issue is about human rights.

  14. Alex Milligan, 25 February 2012 14:56

    Ecclestone is a Spiv, beneath the veneer of a worldly wise mover and shaker lurks the shiny arsed trousers of the second hand car salesman he has forever been. He is cheap, lower morals than a street hooker – its all about money. Any team that goes and participated in this event should be forever shamed. I hope that drivers will make a stand. Mark Webber spoke out last year and I hope that he does so again.
    I long for the day when Ecclestone is gone from our sport – Mosley down, Ecclestone & Todt to go. Then perhaps, we will get some real motor sport enthusiasts running things. Who cares about shiny squeaky clean corporate facilities at circuits – we want racing circuits with decent catering, parking and viewing , decent circuits that promote racing, bring back some of the character and flavour that is F1. Goodwood has it and shows the way that motor sport can be staged for the fans and enthusiasts not the corporate freeloading leeches and fat cats…..

  15. chris b, 26 February 2012 08:44

    Rob, this is a very good article, and one that is going to rumble on until one side actually realizes the folly of pushing this race forward, The Middle East is going through a state of transition and re-discovery and the fat opulent spectacle of Formula One really doesn’t sit at all well during this stage- The transparency of Mr E and his entourage for greed – wonder if Bahrain pay more than anyone else? is so stomach churning i am rapidly despairing of these people.

    one other aspect we have finally gotten some really good racing and F1 seems to be doing its utmost to sabotage itself again – what with Murdoch and Mr E trying to take over the world probably supported by Gentlemen with very large oil-wells- the public betrayed by the Beeb, and i actually agree with Martin Brundle the Beeb show was far to ‘laddish’ and lacked the class i would have preferred

    the other aspect going back to circuits/ countries are the manufacturers and sponsors being bullied by Mr E- not sure i understand that Rob


  16. rob widdows, 26 February 2012 13:17

    OK, everyone, thanks very much for these contributions – but, please, let us be very careful not to make defamatory or libellous comments about individuals. We may well agree, or not, but we must not get ourselves into a minefield here.Please.
    What I meant about sponsors and manufacturers was simply that I was wondering if some of the major global companies would be nervous about a return to Bahrain. I do not think they are under pressure from Mr Ecclestone but I do think some of them may think seriously before supporting the teams in a decision to race in April.
    Finally, whatever you may think of Sky TV, I have spoken to M.Brundle about the plans for 2012 and I believe the coverage on Sky may be well worth watching. Time will tell.

  17. Rey Swann, 26 February 2012 13:22

    Ignore the general feelings of the masses at your peril….if only you know the real feelings of the majority of the people in Bahrain. This race will generate publicity; but it will be .a very negative publicity that Mr E can do without.

  18. David H, 26 February 2012 20:24

    Thanks for courage to state your views now instead of with the ‘after-the-fact’ crowd. Smells like an accident waiting to happen to me. Talk is cheap, seems all who state it’s ok won’t be the ones at risk anyway. Most especially I hope no harm comes to those that effectively have to go but don’t want to go and will be outside the elite’s security sphere.

  19. Rich Ambroson, 27 February 2012 19:01

    Thank you, Mr. Widdows. Well said.

  20. chris b, 28 February 2012 19:47

    Rob, i am in this dilemma, i have followed my passion for nearly 50 years going to countless races in various countries but find my conscience at odds with my passion, especially with what is going on here with News International and knowing Martin will present a very good show that will tick a lot more boxes than the edited highlights the lads of the Beeb will show, i just hope Lee McKenzie gets more of a chance to present the show, but i just cannot buy sky and it is just so frustrating –

    incidentally what is happening next year on TV? will the BBc show anything live? or anything ?

  21. Jackal, 3 March 2012 01:31

    Well said Rob. I agree 100% and am very glad that someone had the moral fortitude to raise the point. Thank you.

  22. carlo Tolhoek, 3 March 2012 19:13

    Don’t make silly comments like that about Bernie. He is a true visionair and formula one would not be even be here without him. He has made some good money… so what.. smart guys get rewarded for their abilities. He deserves all of our respect if you love F1.


  23. Tony Geran, 5 March 2012 06:42

    Rob I agree completely. I reckon as soon as all the team principals get together in Melbourne, it will be cancelled. I don’t think Vodafone Shell or even Red Bull will want images of unruly crowds next to their brand names being seen around the globe.

  24. M.S.W. Laywrong, 10 March 2012 12:40

    21st century F1 is a tuna melt of hero worship and techie obsession. Ultimately your fan base is more important than geopolitics. You are not a nation; you’re a sport. Too many distractions! Cancel the damn race and let us worship and obsess.

    M.S.W. Laywrong

  25. Carlos Sanchez, 14 March 2012 11:14

    Well done Rob I agree with you completely.
    In regards to Boss Bernie, in as much as I sometimes find myself at disagreement with the way the essence of Grand Prix racing has downgraded over the years, I am the first one to give him all the credit and support him for having projected Formula One into what it is and where it stands today on a worldwide stage, so my, our, first responsibility as MS fans shall be to be constructive for the well being our sport, I think.
    For I stress that we must be careful not to dilute F1′s hard earned substance in the search for more exposure worldwide, or otherwise we risk losing it all by such rapid expansion.
    Now in regards to whether F1 should be in Bahrain or not this year, I think it is just up to the conditions being safe or not to go ahead with the event, but we (F1, GP Racing) shall absolutely not pretend to be moralists adopting this or that political position of any kind. We are a Sport (spectacle & business as well sure…) but a Sport!
    Then if Vodafone or Red Bull are seen along with whatever protesting banners around, if it’s peaceful, so what!
    So, so far I would favor the GP in Bahrain. But, let’s see…

Similar content


F1 team principals


Lee McKenzie discusses the team principal role in F1 after the resignation of Stefano Domenicali and the return of Ron Dennis.


Formula 1′s minimum weight limit


Nigel Roebuck looks at the problems caused by Formula 1′s minimum weight limit


Overtaking your team-mate


After watching Massa and Bottas in Malaysia Andrew Frankel sought the opinion of Sir Stirling Moss



Rob Widdows

Read Rob's profile and more …