Organisers of this weekend’s GP2 Asia Series meeting in Bahrain have been forced to cancel today’s opening practice sessions as a result of the anti-government protests happening in the nearby capital of Manama, which are beginning to escalate rapidly.
The day’s practice session have been postponed until tomorrow, with local medical crews being forced to remain in the local hospitals rather an the Sakhir circuit, for fears that the local violence could escalate into more casualties. To-date, several protestors have been killed and dozens more injured when local police and armed forces fired on the crowds with tear gas and live ammunition – raising serious concerns that the upcoming F1 test sessions and Grand Prix in March will be cancelled.
Presented with the choice of allowing (what were) peaceful protests to lead to a growth in anti-government support, or having a situation escalate to those similar to what happened in the nearby Arab nations of Tunisia and Egypt by moving violently against the protestors, local authorities have chosen the latter option.
This morning, police have raided the protestor encampment on the outskirts of Manama, firing tear gas at, beating and arresting anti-government protestors who did not flee the area. It is reported that several protestors were killed in this incident alone, adding to what risks becoming a quickly mounting death toll.
Such tactics typically lead to a more determined – rather than weakened – opposition, who will then have little to risk in staging a violent counteraction.
With the final pre-season test scheduled for a little over two weeks away and the season-opening Grand Prix less than one month away, Formula 1 organisers and the FIA may be forced to decide quickly as to what course of action they take.
Do they go and risk allowing themselves to be exposed to the politics of the warring factions, or do they bail from what rapidly descend into a sorry mess that risks the safety of those working in, and coming to watch, the event?
Certainly, F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone has chosen to associate himself with some unusual governments over the years – China, Russia, Abu Dhabi and Turkey all spring to mind – but these latest developments will concern him enormously.
If F1 decides to boycott the event, it will need to do so sooner, rather than later, to minimise the fall-out of lost travel costs and claims for compensation.
The sport has typically been slow to distance itself from the politics of some countries – its delay in withdrawing its Grands Prix from South Africa during the apartheid regime is but one example – but if the unrest continues and the F1 circus heads there, then there is every risk that the Grand Prix will be targeted by these protests.