The FIA’s decision yesterday to strike the Bahrain Grand Prix from the 2011 F1 calendar is welcome – but long overdue.
It came four months too late to spare F1 a messy row which cast the sport in a negative light.
Once the Bahrain government took the decision in February not to hold the season-opening race the following month, it should have served as the cue for the race to be dropped from the calendar entirely.
Instead the F1 calendar was thrown into doubt for months as the Bahrainis were given first one deadline, then another. Eventually the race was reinstated, then finally scrapped for good within the space of two weeks.
The blinkered belief that the race could be be shoe-horned into the end of the calendar, the hasty attempt to displace another event, the deafness to the concerns of the teams or the inconvenience it would cause to race-goers; all this and more demonstrated an eagerness to do business with Bahrain’s rulers which was unseemly given what had taken place in the country.
The likelihood that the government’s decision to end the state of emergency was timed in order to suit the FIA’s timetable for making a decision on reinstating the race is a particularly troubling thought.
The FIA meekly followed Bernie Ecclestone’s attempts to reinstate the race in spite of insurmountable obstacles: he pressed for a one-month extension on the deadline to decide on the race, the FIA supplied it; Ecclestone claimed the teams were happy to race in Bahrain, the FIA believed him and acted accordingly.
A conveniently-glowing first-hand account of the situation in Bahrain was rubber-stamped by the FIA. The flimsy document appears to have been the product of a carefully-choreographed visit. The report was not made public but was leaked online.
The FIA’s Carlos Gracia met with Tariq al-Saffar, who is billed in the report as a “human rights representative” who turned out to be from the Bahrain government’s National Institution for Human Rights whose credentials on promoting human rights are dubious (as first noted by a group of F1 Fanatic readers).
Once reality hit home – a letter from the Formula 1 Teams’ Association to the FIA making their position unequivocally clear – and the impossibility of racing in Bahrain became apparent, the two sides turned on each other.
Ecclestone won the sprint to a microphone, telling the world Bahrain wouldn’t happen after all, leaving Jean Todt and the FIA out on a limb.
Todt hit back by exposing Ecclestone’s inconsistency: One day after saying the race was “not on”, Ecclestone had made fresh attempts to fit Bahrain into the calendar.
Last year brought a welcome break from the toxic politics of recent seasons. The Bahrain affair was an unwelcome return to the bad old days.
Few people in F1 emerge from this mess with any credibility. The exceptions are the teams, whose refusal to accept a late change in the calendar finally halted the efforts to reinstate the race, and the few drivers who spoke out about the situation, chief among which was Mark Webber.
For those in charge there are plenty of lessons to be learned. Particularly as there is every chance F1 will face a repeat of this debate over next year’s Bahrain Grand Prix, which is slated to open the new season on March 11th.
2011 Bahrain Grand Prix
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