Is F1 leaving the democratic world for money?

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    The 2013 Bahrain GP is approaching and I’m sure that there will again be heated discussion about whether the race should go on or not. However, I have always believed that the Bahrain GP is only part of a wider story.

    The U.S.-based NGO ‘Freedom House’ assesses each country’s degree of political freedoms and civil liberties in their yearly survey and report called ‘Freedom in the World’. I’ve made a table of the 2013 degrees in the countries that are going to host races in 2013 and Russia that is most probably going to join the club in 2014. To illustrate the point, I’ve sorted them by the year when the respective country hosted an F1 world championship race for the first time. The scale is from 1 (most free) to 7 (least free).


    It’s obvious that F1 now races in many partly democratic and undemocratic countries, while it didn’t 15 years ago. The average degree of democracy in the countries that have been in F1 calendar before 1999 is 1.25. The figure for the countries that have joined since then is 4.5. What is more, the expansion partly happens at the expense of races in the democratic world. There are no races in countries, such as France and Argentina anymore and there is only one race per country in Germany and Italy.

    I tend to believe that the controversy around the Bahrain GP is just a logical consequence of F1’s expansion policy and that we are about to see more of the same in the upcoming years.

    What are your thoughts?


    Now I’d like to see this data to be compared to how we voted races ever since Vote the Race started, to determine if less democracy = better racing.

    Nah, just joking.

    Force Maikel

    I like you’re thinking behind this but cannot support it simply because it comes from an American source. They are not the ones that should be declaring which country is democratic and which not. Gitmo comes to mind or “don’t ask don’t tell”. In fact I don’t think you’d ever be able to assemble an unbiased list. The way Russia is treated in this list just doesn’t compare to the reality. Sure they are more right-wing inspired these days but that doesn’t make it a non-democratic country, I concur with the 5 for civil rights though ^-^


    I wouldn’t trust anything a NGO says.


    The concept of “freedom” seems highly subjective. For example, the United States, a country that scores highly (1) in the Freedom House index, is itself responsible for violations of freedom such as Guantanamo Bay and the PATRIOT Act. India, scored somewhat free (3), continues to grapple with social issues including but not limited to the caste system. Conversely, countries like the UAE and Malaysia, judged not as politically free (6 and 4), enjoy an otherwise high standard of living and quality of life.

    However, it is an accurate observation that F1 has been attracted toward countries with less civil liberties but more than adequate finances. It is a consequence of races being treated less as purely sporting events, and more as political showcases or commodities.


    There’s also the issue that a particular countries level of political freedom and civil liberties is a current measurement, and not contemporaneous with when the race was introduced.

    Italy and Germany had their inaugural race introduced roughly 5 or 6 years after they were defeated in World War II, after being under fascist rule.

    Spain had a race introduced under the dictatorship of Franco.

    Brazil was under military rule when it had it’s first.

    Hungary was well and truly behind the Iron Curtain.

    The list also doesn’t include any countries which used to host races and also have questionable human rights records. Argentina and South Africa come to mind.
    South Africa held Grands Prix during Apartheid, which was extremely questionable even back then.

    I don’t think your theory is valid.

    Prisoner Monkeys

    What are your thoughts?

    That with enough statistics, you can prove just about anything.

    For instance:

    There are no races in countries, such as France and Argentina anymore

    Argentina does not have a circuit capable of hosting Formula 1, so to imply that it has been removed in favour of race in an “un-free” state is misleading.

    there is only one race per country in Germany and Italy.
    What does that have to do with anything? There is no country with two races on the 2013 calendar.


    @girts I think its a bit more complex than this. As many have pointed out there are just too many other factors that affect this. I think its more about F1 exploring and ,lets face it, exploiting Foreign markets with the extra money they might possess.


    Maybe @girts point is more related to the state of countries that are being introduced to the sport recently, let´s say 5 years . A clear example is Bahrain. The question is based on F1 history would FIA and FOM would have agree to race in so such conflictive country, in the middle of a civil war country? I think there has always being and there will always be greed in F1, I mean if my mmemory doesn´t fail me they did Cuban GP after Fidel Castro, and also Peron GP. So don´t think things have change that much.


    I think @davids hit the nail on the head.


    Interesting.. The only thing I can say is that it´s shamefull to mix sport with politics but hey… Bernie doesn´t seem to mind as long as they give him his “greenbacks” or lbs. !!


    I would like to point out that I never meant to say that F1 is going to undemocratic countries just because it is evil or just because Bernie is evil and desperately wants to do deals with as many dictators as possible. I don’t think so.

    I rather believe that F1 is following money and that money is easier available in authoritarian countries than in democratic ones. For instance, authoritarian governments can afford to spend the public money on building expensive high class racing facilities or pay higher race hosting fees.

    I agree with @Giggsy11 that there is more than one reason for this trend, particularly the wish to explore new markets. I also agree with @DavidS that the world changes all the time and that F1 has raced in undemocratic countries before 1999, too. But I am talking about an obvious trend, not individual examples.

    I cannot agree with the view that concept of freedom is highly subjective (freedom and wealth are different issues) or that the source is unreliable just because it is an organisation that is based in the USA. For instance, the Presss Freedom Index that is published by a French NGO, shows quite a similar situation:



    Bernie is definitely more concerned about money than human rights. He’s a businessman and they tend to be that way.

    The chart obviously has its faults: most importantly it is does not tell anything about each country’s situation at the year they were introducted to the calendar which would be far more informative in terms of the hypothesis. Additionally, I don’t completely agree with some of the number values some countries were given.

    In history, when countries have started opening their markets it has usually led to more civil and political rights. One clear example would be Gorbachev’s perestroika which had its effect to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The current situation in Russia is not that great but it’s definitely a lot better than what it was before the 90s.

    I’m not saying that F1 will solve all the problems because it definitely won’t but it’s part of global market economy. And freeing economy has been a major liberating force in many cases in the past.

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