FIA reinstate Bahrain Grand Prix
The Bahrain Grand Prix is set to return to the 2011 calendar in October, the FIA confirmed from Paris yesterday evening.
The gulf state are set to host their race on 30 October after they were forced to postpone their season-opening 13 March date due to political unrest.
The inaugural Indian Grand Prix, originally due to be held on that date, will now assume season finale duties on the first or second weekend of December – making 2011 the latest-finishing season since 1963.
The announcement coincided with reports of police firing rubber bullets and tear gas at protestors.
‘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,’ said the FIA in a press release.
‘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.
‘This decision reflects the spirit of reconciliation in Bahrain, which is evident from the strong support the race receives…’
‘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 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.’
In response to the FIA’s decision, chairman of the Bahrain International Circuit Zayed R. Alzayani said that it was welcome news.
‘As a country we have faced a difficult time, but stability has returned.
‘Collectively, we are in the process of addressing issues of national and international concern, and learning lessons from the recent past.
‘By the time the Grand Prix arrives we will be able to remind the world about Bahrain at its best.’
Political unrest began during late February and rapidly grew as Bahrainis attempted to repeat protests similar to those seen in Egypt and Libya early this year.
The Bahrain round of GP2 was cancelled after medical teams were redeployed to tend to those injured during the demonstrations. The Formula One Grand Prix was subsequently postponed due to safety concerns.
A state of emergency was declared by King Hamad on 14 March – one day after the Grand Prix was to be held. It persisted until Wednesday this week – the day the FIA inspected the country to determine its fitness to host a round of this year’s championship.
The protests this year have seen as many as 36 people killed, with over 1000 injured. Scores more are still missing.
This was voted on by the FIA: Ecclestone
Bernie Ecclestone has said that the public should put its trust in the FIA’s decision making.
‘The truth of the matter is, this was voted on by the FIA, that was it. It went through the World Council,’ the commercial rights holder told Press Association Sport.
‘The FIA sent people out there to check on the situation, they came back and reported everything is fine.
‘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.’
Predictably, the immediate backlash against the FIA has been severe, with members of the public and media alike condemning the decision to return to Bahrain whilst the situation remains volatile.
It was reported earlier in the week that a FOTA meeting held in Monaco came to the conclusion that the teams would be against a move to hold the Bahrain Grand Prix in December, purely on the grounds that it would reduce the off-season time by at least two weeks.
‘It’s too much,’ said Mercedes GP team principal Ross Brawn. ‘Our guys have been working since January, so for people to have no time for holidays prior to Christmas is just not acceptable.’
Despite this, the silence from FOTA – the Formula One Teams’ Association – since the official decision was announced remains deafening as they attempt to form an official stance on the matter.
Mark Webber has thus far been the only driver to speak out on the reinstating of the race, saying via his own website that he would be ‘surprised’ if plans to race in Bahrain did go ahead.
‘My opinion is unchanged since I was first asked about this in late February,’ said the Australian.
Webber: not happy with the decision
‘In my personal opinion, the sport should have taken a much firmer stance earlier this year rather than constantly delaying its decision in hope of being able to re-schedule it in 2011. It would have sent a very clear message about F1’s position on something as fundamental as human rights and how it deals with moral issues.
‘It’s obvious that the parties involved have struggled to reach a decision but sadly I feel that they still haven’t made the right one. Like it or not, F1 and sport in general isn’t above having a social responsibility and conscience. I hope F1 is able to return to Bahrain eventually but now isn’t the right time.
‘As a competitor I do not feel at all comfortable going there to compete in an event when, despite reassurances to the contrary, it seems inevitable that it will cause more tension for the people of that country.
‘I don’t understand why my sport wishes to place itself in a position to be a catalyst for that.’