Former World Champion Damon Hill has nailed his colours very firmly to this year’s Bahrain Grand Prix, saying that the event should go ahead in spite of current safety concerns in the wake of more anti-government protests.
The Englishman – who became World Champion in 1996 – made his comments to the British media, which has been a principal source of much of the anti-Bahrain sentiment when the topic of April’s race has been staged.
Hill recently visited the island kingdom with FIA President Jean Todt, and he now believes that the country is ready to make its return to the F1 calendar again, despite claims from human rights groups that the event would serve as little more than a propaganda piece for the country.
Last year’s race – scheduled as the season-opener – was postponed and later cancelled amidst increasing anti-government protests and subsequent clampdowns by government-support security forces.
The sport was roundly criticised for taking a more public stance in opposition to the government’s crackdown on its own citizens, and Hill was previously one of those critics.
“You can’t just base your decision to hold a race in a country on that country’s ability to pay,” he said last June.
But his tune has since changed after his recent visit to Bahrain, where he has claimed that the situation has dramatically improved.
“I listened to a lot of people there, including eyewitnesses,” he continued. “I believe they are making change for the better.
“There is no question they have issues, but every country has issues — we had riots here in the UK not so long ago.
“This time, Formula 1 can go to Bahrain with a clear conscience and not just as a tool for some sort of cover-up.”
The fear still exists that the race – if indeed it does go ahead – will be used as by government opponents as an opportunity to gain mass exposure to the rest of the world.
But Hill – who was earlier this week announced as a part-time analyst with SKY Sport’s F1 channel – is also widely-respected by the media and his peers for being a straight talker.
No doubt his recent trip with Todt was quite deliberate on the FIA’s part, and Hill would have been carefully selected on account of his perceived integrity.
[Images via AFP, Getty Images]