By Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent
- Bahrain GP to go ahead on October 30
- No date revealed for Indian Grand Prix
- FIA WMSC makes controversial decision
After a meeting of the FIA World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) in Barcelona today, it was announced by Sheikh Fawaz al-Khalifa, head of the information affairs authority, the Bahrain Grand Prix will take place on October 30, and the Indian Grand Prix will now be held in December, ‘and will be the final round of the 2011 Championship, combined with the FIA Annual General Assembly and Prize-Giving Gala’, according to a FIA statement.
Zayed Rashid Alzayani, chairman of the Bahrain International Circuit (BIC), “This is welcome news for all of Bahrain. As a country we have faced a difficult time, but stability has returned, with businesses operating close to normal and countries removing travel restrictions.” And he told reuters, “On behalf of Bahrain, I would like to thank [FOM CEO] Bernie Ecclestone, [FIA president] Jean Todt and the FIA and the rest of the motorsport community for the support and understanding they have extended to us this year.”
Mohammed Ben Sulayem, Vice President of the FIA and President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the United Arab Emirates (ATCUAE) also attended the meeting of the WMSC today. Before the meeting he told the media the FIA would take all arguments into consideration, “On Friday, we will need to determine whether teams are against [the Bahrain GP], who is against it, why they are against it -- we have some very strong decisions to make.”
The statement from the FIA:
“Following a fact-finding mission undertaken at the request of FIA President Jean Todt, FIA Vice President Carlos Gracia visited Bahrain on 31 May 2011 to assess the situation in the country. Meetings were conducted with the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the Bahrain Motor Federation and Bahrain International Circuit, as well as other national and international organisations including Mr. Tariq Al Saffar at the National Institute of Human Rights. It should be noted that the recent announcement by the King of Bahrain has established a political dialogue and reconciliation process.”
The FIA stressed it was an unanimous decision, After considering all the factors and taking into consideration all stakeholders’ concerns, the WMSC unanimously agreed to reinstate the Bahrain Grand Prix in the 2011 FIA Formula One World Championship.”
The statement also claims the opposition also is in favor of the Bahrain GP, and in fact, the FIA claims this will help to reunite the people of Bahrain:
“This 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 recognizes 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.”
The Grand Prix at the BIC would originally take place on March 13, but the race was cancelled in February after protestors had clashed with Bahraini authorities on the Pearl Roundabout in the capital of Manama. The civil unrest in the tiny Gulf state continued and the authorities declared a three-month state of emergency and in April anti-government and civil right activists urged Ecclestone not to reschedule the Grand Prix.
The decision about rescheduling the Bahrain GP had originally been postponed to May 1, but after pressure from Ecclestone, the FIA decided to extend the deadline to June 3.
Today’s decision also poses a moral dilemma for Formula One, Ecclestone yesterday claimed a decision to return to Bahrain is not financially motivated, “Nothing to do with money at all. Nothing, in any shape or form.” And the 80-year old added, “This has to do with whether people... I don't know, to be honest, with this occasion whether people are concerned with their safety if they go or whether people are concerned with what has happened in the past. “What has happened in that whole area, in all those countries, is not good in any way, so we will have to wait and see.”
The New York-based Human Rights Watch recently wrote in a letter to the FIA and Formula One teams that they should 'seriously consider the appropriateness of holding the event this year in Bahrain in light of the scale of human rights violations there'.
The letter stated: “We believe your decision should be informed by, among other things, the severe human rights crisis in Bahrain today, one that has worsened considerably since the cancellation decision in February. We seriously question whether a successful Formula One event can be staged in an environment characterized by an unrelenting official campaign of punitive retribution against many who participated in or otherwise supported the pro-democracy protests.”
Yesterday Damon Hill also urged Formula One to skip the Bahrain GP, even if it involves a multi-million Euro loss. “You can't just base your decision to hold a race in a country on that country's ability to pay,” the 1996 World Champion said in an interview with the UK Mail. “Formula One cannot put its head in the sand concerning the Bahrain Grand Prix because it is a very volatile situation out there and Formula One is involved. Formula One must align itself with progression, not repression, and a lot of demonstrations in that country have been brutally repressed. You are either aware of that or you're not.”
Will teams and drivers agree?
Ex-FIA President Max Mosley told he would never go to Bahrain, “If I was president today, Formula One would go to Bahrain over my dead body, the Grand Prix will be used to paint a picture of Bahrain that will be false.
When people in a country are being hurt, the issues are bigger than sport
They will be attempting to use the Grand Prix to support what they are doing, almost using Formula One as an instrument of repression.” He also warned sponsors could also withdraw from the event’ “There is only one reason Formula One is in Bahrain and that is a political reason. To go will be a public-relations disaster and sponsors will want their liveries removed.”
“When people in a country are being hurt, the issues are bigger than sport. Let's hope the right decision is made,” Mark Webber wrote on Twitter.
Apart from the moral dilemma a number of teams also opposed the announced extension of the season to December 11, for logistical reasons, and Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn this week said stretching the calendar to December 11 was unacceptable for his Mercedes GP team. “It’s too much. Our guys have been working since January, so for people to have no time for holidays prior to Christmas is just not acceptable,” the Briton said.
There is also an online petition “No F1 in brutal Bahrain” on the website of the Aavaz organization which was signed by over 340,000 fans, the objective is to ask Formula One teams not to go to Bahrain.