The Bahrain Grand Prix was cancelled weeks before it was due to open the 2011 season after an outbreak of violence. Today we have the news that the race has been reinstated onto the 2011 calendar with a date of October 30th, originally the date of the first ever Indian Grand Prix. It will now be the finale of the season (date TBC, likely December 11th)
A lot of fans are unhappy that the race is being held after the media reports from the country in the last months. This is a very complex situation though and it is not easy to just strike a race off the calendar. There are a lot of stakeholders involved. I'm no political expert but with the F1 connections i've followed some of the story surrounding the Bahrain region this year. It is incredible the PR which is delivered from each side. One portrays a peaceful area, working to restore calm and have dialogue amongst the people. The other a very negative story of death, repression and chaos. None of those who have not been there can't say for certain what is going on but i would guess that the real story is somewhere in the middle.
The teams haven't said much. At least two of them would have boycotted the race if it had been held in March. Mark Webber tweeted yesterday that the race shouldn't be held. However Sebastien Buemi on the 'The Flying Lap' show on Wednesday said that he had family living out there and they were reporting peaceful times and that he had no issue about going to Bahrain. I don;t think the actual security of the race would be a major issue. The teams have been going to Bahrain since 2004 and were even planning a pre season test at Sakhir so it has not been an issue before. Compare that with Brazil where attacks have occurred almost annually against team employees.
Now don't be thinking that i'm some sort of Bahrain political supporter all of a sudden because i'm definitely not! I'm just pointing out that F1 travels to other places where security cannot be guaranteed. I tweeted Will Buxton about the threat of protests days before the GP2 Asia race in the area (this was in February when it all kicked off) and he was unaware of any problems or threats. Of course it then started kicking off. Remember London in the student protests? If you didn't know what England was like and seen that on your news channel you would wonder how safe a place it is. Yet we don't get any worries about postponing Silverstone. Security is more of an issue in Bahrain but you can't guarantee it anywhere in the world.
Human rights is the thing here. Are the Bahraini government treating people wrongly and if so should F1 (even if it is nothing to do with them) being going to the region and be connected with such people? Do the sponsors of F1 teams want to have themselves linked with such an area. China has a terrible record of this as well but F1 still heads to Shanghai and the Olympics, one of the biggest sporting events in the world, were held in the country in 2008. I understand that team members and journalists may not want to travel and they should be allowed to decide and not forced to go if they don't want to. The FIA can cancel an event if fewer than 12 cars are available.
The FIA are caught here. They have a backlash about going ahead with a race in a country which some view as a unjust region. I for one really hope that peace and understanding can be found in Bahrain and across the world. The FIA sent their vice president out to Bahrain this week and he was satisfied with what he found. The area has a contract to host a race and the FIA have checked and found the area to be in a good state. The reason why this race should not go on the grounds of the sport itself is on the basis of logistics. It now seems that the season will finish on December 11th. Two weeks before Christmas and drivers could still be racing for points and for a championship. It is too far and really F1 has to be careful. We all love having races but there has to be some consideration for the human beings who are working around the world for so much of the year. F1 can still be a championship without this. Bahrain should have been told that the calendar is full and that F1 would try and return in 2012. It would have been a better solution.
So as i say i'm no supporter of Bahrain politics, i want to see peace in this world, not bloodshed. However i can understand why the race is back on and if the teams boycott it then that will be up to them. I'm just defending the FIA who have so many people to please and so much money riding on different outcomes for different stakeholders. It shouldn't come down to money but sadly it plays a big part in these things. Contracts and deals are in place. People may well skip/boycott the race and if they do then they have a right to do so. I think we should have waited until 2012 but the race is on and it'll be interesting to see what further reaction there is because this will still run for a while yet