In a decision that has left the majority of the sport’s fans completely dumbfounded, the FIA has decided to put the Bahrain Grand Prix back on the 2011 Formula 1 calendar after a meeting of its World Motor Sport Council in Barcelona on Friday.
Originally slated for a season-opening billing in March, the event was cancelled in the early weeks of the year due to political unrest in the country.
A decision on the race’s future was expected as early as the beginning of May, but a reprieve was granted until Friday 3 June before the FIA would make its final decision. Conveniently, Bahrain ended its state of emergency rule just two days before the WMSC meeting.
The decision to reinstate the race came after an apparent fact-finding by the FIA’s Vice-President, Carlos Gracia,
In a statement from the FIA, is declares its decision “reflects the spirit of reconciliation in Bahrain, which is evident from the strong support the race receives from the Government and all major parties in Bahrain, including the largest opposition group, all of whom endorse the Formula One Grand Prix and motor sport in the country. The WMSC feels that reinstating the Grand Prix is a means of helping to unite people as the country looks to move forward, and also recognises the commitment made by the Formula One teams, their employees and families, and personnel associated with the Championship including the local team of volunteers who are so vital to the event.”
What noble sentiments indeed, but that’s hardly the view that the sport’s fans or teams are going to be supporting. The teams made their position very clear during a FOTA meeting at Monaco, voting against holding a race there this year.
And certainly international human rights groups will argue that the sport – by this decision – has effectively condoned the alleged abuses that occurred during the unrest. Quite what this says about Formula 1’s involvement in China is perhaps a matter for another article…
The 2011 calendar has therefore been updated to reflect these changes, with the Indian Grand Prix bumped from its original October 30 slot to make way for Bahrain, so it now runs a back-to-back schedule with the race in nearby Abu Dhabi.
This now means that the Indian race will assume a date in December as the season-ending race on December 11, a decision that will upset many in Formula 1 given that this now eats into their off-season preparation time for the following 2012 championship year.
Fundamentally, the sport will cop a lot of criticism for this decision, and rightly so. Hopefully, for the event’s sake only, the Bahraini opposition that has been so fundamentally quashed by the ruling government will not find ways to disrupt the event itself. The last thing Formula 1 needs is to be a pawn in a bigger game of political chess between this sides, but if this occurs when it will only have itself to blame.
[Image via The Cahier Archive]