Just over three months ago, we expressed surprise when former World Champion Damon Hill went public with his support of the Bahrain Grand Prix going ahead, but it seems that recent reports of escalating violence in the country – with just over two weeks until the event itself – have led to a rapid U-turn in his opinion…
Hill’s earlier comments of support came in the wake of a
stage-managed visit he made to the island kingdom with FIA President Jean Todt.
Speaking with the British media after his visit, Hill declared that the country was ready to return to the motorsport landscape.
“Formula 1 can go to Bahrain with a clear conscience and not just as a tool for some sort of cover-up,” he was quoted as saying at the time.
But now, the 1996 World Champion has urged the sport’s officials to consider the impact that a Grand Prix will have in the country, particularly amidst increasingly worrying reports of more violence between opposition supporters and government security forces.
“What we must put above all else is what will be the penalty in terms of human cost if the race goes ahead,” he is quoted by the Guardian newspaper as saying.
“It would be a bad state of affairs, and bad for Formula One, to be seen to be enforcing martial law in order to hold the race. That is not what this sport should be about. Looking at it today you’d have to say that [the race] could be creating more problems than it’s solving.
“Formula One cannot put its head in the sand concerning the Bahrain Grand Prix, because it is a very volatile situation out there,” he added.
“Things are different now. The protests have not abated and may even have become more determined and calculated. It is a worrying state of affairs.”
Understandably, Hill was grilled about why his opinion a mere few weeks ago differed so much to his point of view today. Only last week, a protestor was shot and killed.
“The view I gave after returning from the visit last year was based on my understanding of several factors; the substantial economic significance of the GP for Bahrain; that the report on the April riots condemned the actions of the police and security forces, and that both sides were to take part in meaningful dialogue to resolve the problems peacefully. Under those conditions one could imagine the GP being a great fillip for a Bahrain on the road to recovery,” he answered.
“[Now] conditions do not seem to have improved, judging by the reports in our European newspapers, social media and on Al Jazeera TV. The recent meeting to garner support for the race as a unifying event was troubling insofar as it tried to represent the rioting in Bahrain as the result of bad press reporting and as a ‘youth’ issue.
“Promoting the race as ‘Uniting Bahrain’, whilst a laudable ambition, might be elevating F1 beyond even its own prodigious powers. I’m just saying we have to tread carefully. I hope the FIA are considering the implications of this fully and that events in Bahrain are not seen as they are often sold, as a bunch of yobs throwing Molotov cocktails, because that’s a gross simplification. If they believe that, they ought be more wary. You don’t get 100,000 people risking their lives in protest for nothing.”
But Hill is not yet calling for the race to be cancelled, and is perhaps hoping on the teams uniting in opposition to the event.
“If we go, we all go,” Hill continued. “But there is obviously still a great deal of pain, anger and tension in Bahrain. It would be better for F1 to make it clear that it properly understands this, and that it wants only the best for all Bahrain, or whatever country it visits. I think F1 is sailing very close to this limit.
“But there is an even more troubling thought, which is this: is F1 playing brinkmanship for purely financial reasons while people are putting their lives in peril to protest against this event?”
While some of the teams have serious misgivings about the event, it will need for all of them to unite in opposition to it and apply pressure on the FIA.
That’s a situation that is highly unlikely given the wealth of Middle Eastern investment in Formula 1: Red Bull has substantial backing from the Infiniti car brand (which has a big presence in the region), Mercedes is majority-owned by the Emirati-based oil conglomerate, Ferrari has Abu Dhabi investment, and – worst of all! – McLaren is co-owned by the Bahrain government.
Why else were senior figures from those teams linking arms with F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone at last week’s press assault to support the event.
Yes, there’s a lot of money at stake. But how much are human lives worth? This is a troubling moral crisis for the sport, but one fears that the dollars will win out at the expense of human suffering.
That is simply unacceptable.
What are your opinions regarding the Bahrain Grand Prix? Should the event go ahead? Please post your comments below…