The Formula One teams appear to be on a collision course with the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone after today’s contentious decision regarding the rescheduling of the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Press Association Sport understands no team is interested in racing in Bahrain on October 30 this year, the date voted for by the World Motor Sport Council following their meeting in Barcelona.
The pressure is on the teams to make a stand, with a human rights group claiming the WMSC decision is “a kick in the teeth for the Bahraini people”.
Pro-democracy demonstrations earlier this year led to the deaths of 30 people, with hundreds of protesters detained, many of whom still remain in custody, and the cancellation of the race.
Bahrain has since lobbied hard for their grand prix to return to the calendar, despite the apparent ongoing oppression of their people.
Today the FIA revealed a delegation visited Bahrain this week to assess the situation, however, that was prior to the state of emergency being lifted on Wednesday.
The so-called ’fact-finding’ mission was conducted in conjunction with the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the Bahrain Motor Federation and Bahrain International Circuit.
According to the FIA, a member for the National Institute of Human Rights, Tariq Al Saffar, was also present.
However, with martial law no longer in place, Al Jazeera television yesterday showed protesters who had bravely returned to the streets being fired upon with tear gas and rubber bullets by Bahraini police.
As further incitement, one woman was killed by the tear gas, with her funeral held today and attended by hundreds of mourners.
The over-riding feeling is the sport of Formula One should not be returning to Bahrain this year, with a stigma attached if they do.
Alex Wilks, campaign director for international organisation Avaaz, said: “Formula One’s decision is a kick in the teeth for the Bahraini people.
“The race will happen in a country where government troops continue to shoot and arrest peaceful protesters.
“Now F1, plus Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari, and every other team will be directly linked with a bloody crackdown that’s ruined the lives of hundreds of innocent people.”
Even Amnesty International today issued a bulletin warning of ongoing repression in the Gulf kingdom.
The teams, however, do not want to attend, not only from a moral standpoint, but also due to the likelihood of insurance problems for all team members, whilst there is expected to be resistance from sponsors.
Under the umbrella of the Formula One Teams’ Association, with all but Hispania Racing represented, the ball is now in their court to show backbone and voice their opposition.
A McLaren spokesperson said: “All FOTA teams, of which McLaren is one, acknowledge the decision made by the FIA World Motor Sport Council today.
“That decision is likely to be discussed internally within FOTA, and a more detailed joint position may be defined after those discussions have taken place.”
As you can imagine, the Bahrainis in authority are adamant there will be no problems when it comes to staging the grand prix.
Zayed R. Alzayani, chairman of the Bahrain International Circuit, said: “By the time the grand prix arrives we will be able to remind the world about Bahrain at its best.
“The Bahrain Grand Prix has always been a source of national pride and it is an event than transcends politics. Its positive effect will be felt throughout the country.”
F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, one of the 26 members of the World Council who unanimously voted on the change of date, has insisted democracy took place.
Speaking to Press Association Sport, Ecclestone said: “The truth of the matter is, this matter was voted on by the FIA, that was it. It went through the World Council.
“The FIA sent people out there to check on the situation, they came back and reported everything is fine.
“It’s obvious that everybody feels they need to be safe when we get there.
“In the end we’ll have to wait and see what happens in Bahrain. If there is peace and no problems then I suppose the teams will be all right.”
Ecclestone, who returned the $40m fee to the Bahrainis upon the cancellation of the race earlier this year, insisted money was not at the heart of the current debate.
“Of course it’s not the issue. It’s nothing to do with finance,” said Ecclestone.
Additionally high on the agenda is the fact the season will end on December 11 as the Indian Grand Prix has been switched from its original October 30 date now occupied by Bahrain.
Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn highlighted the matter earlier this week when he stated it was “totally unacceptable” for the season to conclude so late.
It is clear that message has been ignored, yet Ecclestone added: “Of course, they’d rather not be racing in December, but these are unusual circumstances.”
In a further twist of the knife for the teams, the WMSC also today announced a record 21-race calendar for next year, dependent on Turkish Grand Prix organisers signing a new contract to host their race.