Uncertainty and confusion surrounded the Bahrain Grand Prix on Tuesday, just four days after the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) had reinstated it on the 2011 Formula One calendar with a provisional date of October 30.
The F1 commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone suggested a u-turn and change of date was probable, while former FIA president Max Mosley led a renewed chorus of objections to the controversial event taking place this year.
Mosley was supported by the F1 teams and drivers, many stating that they do not wish the race to happen while human rights are still being flouted in the Gulf kingdom.
But the FIA made no comment and supporters of the race claimed it would be a step towards peace and reconciliation after last week’s lifting of martial law. More than 30 people have died in pro-democracy protests.
Mosley, who ridiculed the use of non-English and non-Arabic-speaking FIA vice-president Spaniard Carlos Gracia as a fact-finding special envoy in Bahrain, told the BBC: “I will be astonished if the event goes ahead. I don’t think it will happen.”
The race was originally due to take place on March 13 as the season-opener, but was postponed on February 21, due to civil unrest. It was reinstated on June 3.
Mosley said the FIA did not have the authority to reinstate the Bahrain race, or make changes to the calendar, without the written agreement of the teams, led by the Formula One Teams Association (Fota).
“You need the written agreement of every team and I don’t believe that is going to be forthcoming,” said Mosley.
He said this was enshrined in Article 66 of the sport’s International Sporting Code.
Hosting fee ‘makes no difference’
By Tuesday afternoon, it was revealed that Fota had written to the FIA and Ecclestone, who is responsible for the calendar, stating they did not wish to race in Bahrain on October 30. They said they were open to discuss a possible date later in the year.
Ecclestone, who had planned to move the inaugural Indian Grand Prix from October 30 to December 11, was quoted by the Times in London, saying that he favoured moving the proposed reinstated race to December 4.
He added also that the $40-million fee Bahrain pays to host the race “makes no difference” to his or the FIA’s decision.
In spite of the intensified pressure to abandon holding the race, the FIA made no immediate comment while supporters of the race organisers backed its return as a step towards peace and unity in a country torn by civil unrest and violence.
Current FIA president Frenchman Jean Todt said on Monday that the decision to reinstate Bahrain was taken only after Gracia reported the country was stable again.
This flew in the face of a statement made by international campaigning organisation Avaaz on Tuesday.
Avaaz’s campaign director Alex Wilks said FIA claims that ‘calm has been restored and life is back to normal in Bahrain’ were completely untrue.
“In the last week, the police have continued to use tear gas, rubber bullets and sound grenades to break up peaceful marches, killing and injuring dozens of people,” he said.
Leading to a disaster
A state of emergency in Bahrain, which brought in martial law on March 15, was lifted on June 1, but according to Wilks was followed by more violence and widespread abuse of human and civil rights.
“On Monday, 47 Bahraini doctors and nurses who simply provided treatment to injured protesters were charged by a military court with attempting to topple the monarchy,” he said.
“Whitewashing these abuses is an insult to the hundreds of protesters jailed and dozens killed in their struggle for change.”
He called Gracia’s report “one blinkered account” and said the FIA envoy had failed to contact any of key human rights organisations on the ground.
He called for the teams and drivers to stand up “for what is right” by boycotting the race, a sentiment shared by Australian driver Mark Webber of Red Bull.
Webber said: “In my opinion, the sport should have taken a much firmer stance earlier this year — rather than delaying its decision in the hope of being able to reschedule it in 2011.
“It would have sent a very clear message about F1’s position on something as fundamental as human rights and how it deals with moral issues.
“It’s obvious that the parties involved have struggled to reach a decision, but I feel that they still haven’t made the right one.
“Like it or not, F1, and sport in general, isn’t above having a social responsibility — and a conscience. I hope F1 is able to return to Bahrain eventually, but now isn’t the right time.”
That much was made clear when on Monday the Bahrain Centre of Human Rights indicated that it would be calling for a “Day of Rage” on October 30. This, warned Britain’s Sports Minister Hugh Robertson, would lead to “a disaster”. — AFP