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On a wing and a prayer, F1 makes a risky pit stop

Sport risks safety of competitors and its reputation by insisting on Bahrain GP. Joe Saward writes. Formula 1's flirtations with real-world politics

india Updated: Apr 17, 2012 02:13 IST
Formula One,Chinese Grand prix,Bahrain Grand Prix

As you read this, the Formula 1 circus is decamping from Shanghai to Bahrain. No one is sure what to expect and there are a lot of people who are rather worried about what will happen. I will be there at the weekend, but I am happy to spend the next few days in Dubai. I do not know a great deal about tear gas and Molotov Cocktails, and I am in no great hurry to find out about them. I don't know if insisting that the Bahrain Grand Prix go ahead is a wise decision or not. What I do know is that if things go wrong, it will be bad for the sport. So, I am hoping that things go without incident, although I am slightly worried that I am standing on the deck of the RMS Titanic, looking ahead and thinking that the iceberg out there does not look THAT big.

Into the unknown

None of us know what will happen and while we can theorise endlessly, we can only really cross our fingers and hope for the best. The FIA says that all is well, but its press release on the subject included a number of caveats, in case things go wrong. If that happens, there will be a political fight about who is to blame. In my opinion, the whole sport is responsible, if only because no one has spoken up enough. No one has explained why the decision-makers feel that the sport HAS to go to Bahrain this year, when there are clearly risks involved. It is possible that there will be serious trouble. Taking an unnecessary risk with a race that appears to be highly politicised is a curious strategy. And the danger is more than just one of the people being hurt, it is also about the credibility of the FIA.

Unecessary risk

I do not understand why the World Championship cannot simply take the safe route and give Bahrain a little more time to move its healing process forward. We like going there and we wish the best for the country, but rushing in too quickly makes little sense after the trouble they have had. Formula 1 is not going to make the opposition love the regime, and the Grand Prix is not going to make the authorities feel warm and wonderful about the protesters.

The Bigger picture
When you sit down and analyse it, motor racing is a meaningless competition between slightly-unstable young men driving very fast experimental cars. It is entertainment. The drivers accept the risks involved - and they are paid handsomely for their skill and their daring. Men admire them. Women love them. They are glamorous and exciting and when F1 comes to a town it sprinkles a little "pixie dust" over everything and makes everyone feel a little sparkly, and a little special. The Chinese Grand Prix was just the sort of race that shows Formula 1 at its best. It was great stuff. Nico Rosberg did a very capable job and won his first Grand Prix, and the first in the modern era for Mercedes-Benz. For most of the race, those behind him were engaged in a wild battle for second place.

It obviously helped Nico, although in the final laps Jenson Button did manage to get clear of the pack. Behind third-placed Lewis Hamilton, there were 11 drivers covered by 16 seconds and three more not far behind that. If you looked only at the results sheet and saw that Felipe Massa was 13th, you might think that he did not do a good job, but he might just as easily have been third.

The racing was terrific and it would be so nice to be sitting here today, writing about that, rather than having to worry about next weekend. We racing people go where we are sent and usually we have fun. It beats working. We love racing and we think that Formula 1 at the moment is in a great era. We do not want to see the sport getting a bad reputation by mixing too much with politics.

(The author has attended every grand prix for the last 25 years.)

First Published: Apr 17, 2012 00:07 IST