So news out this morning that the Bahrain Grand Prix is going ahead next weekend.
We’ve been waiting for a viewpoint from the FIA for sometime now, and this morning it stated that “based on the current information the FIA has at this stage, it is satisfied that all the proper security measures are in place for the running of a Formula 1 World Championship event in Bahrain”.
After monitoring the situation closely since last year, the FIA will have better information than we have in the media over here. However, the fact that the race needs ‘proper security measures’ in the first place is surely reason enough not to go. No circuit is ever safe – the Hockenheim and Silverstone track invasions are proof of this – but in Bahrain the F1 race has become a political animal. If martial law has to be implemented to keep the F1 fraternity and the citizens of Bahrain safe over the race weekend then that is unacceptable.
Sir Jackie Stewart was on BBC News 24 with me yesterday and he is a firm believer that sport can unite people. I agree with him, but only if the sport in question is neutral. There is an invitation golf tournament in Bahrain this weekend and so far we are yet to see any problems arising from that. Formula 1 is a different matter altogether though because not only does the Sunni government own the circuit, but it also has a stake in McLaren, one of the competing teams. Sport and politics do not mix.
Add to this the fact that Formula 1 is an elitist – and very rich – sport, and it’s easy to see why many don’t want the race to go ahead. If and when it does, it will become a potential launching pad for any voices that want to be heard. F1 is watched by millions of people around the world and any sponsor will tell you how much exposure they can get from it.
Another point that has been raised is that if we do cancel the race, it will set a dangerous precedent. Will future threats and protests mean immediately cancelled races, football matches or even Olympics? There is certain logic to that argument, but surely that precedent was set last year when the race was cancelled then. Yes, the protests were more visible and violent in 2011 and it was the Bahraini government that called the race off, but this year there have once again been very specific threats to the F1 race. Any of you who have seen the slogans painted on walls, or the picture of the protesters dressed as F1 drivers carrying toy machine guns, will agree.
Now that the race seems as though it will go ahead we can only hope that it happens without any problems for Formula 1 or the citizens of Bahrain. If something does happen it will be very hard for F1 to recover its integrity. The race will bring much-needed funds to the country, and of course the £40 million fee to Formula One Management, but if ever there was a time to put everyone’s safety over money, this is it.