The final decision on the fate of the 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix was certainly the right one. Even though it may have been for all the wrong reasons, including logistical inconvenience and sheer embarrassment, it yielded an unexpected bonus, a closer look at the tangled moral universe of the Formula One.
The ugliness that began to surface as soon as the original cancellation was announced on 21 February (three weeks before the race was due to take place and one week after the civil unrest began) couldn?t be camouflaged by reaching correct decision.
There was much chaos at the highest level of the sport’s governing body FIA as well.
Turmoil at the top
Jean Todt, the president of FIA , the world governing body was outflanked by Bernie Ecclestone, representing the holders of Formula One?s commercial rights, who suddenly declared that the race could not take place once again demonstrated his wisdom of the ideological hand break turn.
Todt ended up thoroughly discredited, Ecclestone proved his tactical agility, and Sir Jackie Stewart (whose close associations with various royal families has spanned the decades) did not exactly cover himself with glory by describing Bahrain as “one country keen to accelerate the issue of democracy”.
Max Mosley, Todt’s predecessor, was presented with an opportunity to bestride a stage he was thought to have left two years ago. This time the former president was able to stake an unlikely claim to the moral high ground as he told the BBC and anyone else who would listen that the race could not take place, thus setting the scene for Ecclestone’s abrupt volte-face.
The ultimate decision to cancel the reinstatement had nothing to do with Formulas One?s distress over the deaths of more than 30 Bahrainis or the alleged arrests of many circuit employees as they happened to be of the wrong Islamic denomination or the detaining of doctors and nurses who treated those injured in the protests and were thus deemed to have acted against the government’s interests.
It needs to be pointed out that the sport is not completely devoid of people whose moral compasses function perfectly adequate, but with the sole exception of the admirable Mark Webber, they appear to have no voice.
Apparently the cancellation decision was forced upon the FIA by image conscious sponsors and by the team’s reluctance to make an extra long haul trip which could shorten their hard worked staffs? holidays.
The addiction to money by Formula One put it in a sticky situation. The earliest topics of debate after the initial decision of cancellation was the fate of $40m that Bahrain?s royal family pays CVC Capital Partners, owners of the commercial rights , to schedule their Grand Prix as the season’s opening round.
This premium ensures maximum publicity, even though the Bahrain International Circuit is such a poor track that the event itself is virtually guaranteed to be an anticlimax.
Conflicts of interest
The affair also demonstrated how conflicts of interest are a way of life in Formula One. When the outbreak of civil unrest in mid-February forced the immediate evacuation from Bahrain of the cars and personnel of the GP2 series, the next rung down from Formula One, among the teams was an outfit owned by the kingdom’s Crown Prince in partnership with Jean Todt’s son. When the future of the Formula One race came under threat, and the views of the teams became part of the debate, it was remembered that more than 40% of the McLaren team is owned by the Bahraini royal family’s sovereign wealth fund.
The Al Khalifas due to their wealth and affluence had another of their prince as a member of the FIA?s world motor sports council. The prince and Ecclestone were among the full house of 26 delegates who attended a meeting in Paris on June the 3rd to listen to testimony of a risible insubstantial fact finding mission to Bahrain. In completion of this Todt was able to announce a ?unanimous? decision to reschedule the race in October, on a date on a date originally allocated to the new Indian Grand Prix in New Delhi, which would be given a new slot on 11 December.
The voters ? who included Stefano Domenicali, the Ferrari principal, representing the constructors ? apparently gave their verdict on an informal show of hands, and the new date agreeably coincided with that of the FIA’s annual gala and prize-giving, also to be held in New Delhi. No thought, at that stage, was given to the impact of the change of date on the plans of fans who had already booked their flights for the Indian race.
Eventually the right words were spoken (after much deliberation of course) and the race was cancelled. However it is still on the racing calendar for 2012, again scheduled to open the championship. Formula One does not do politics, as Ecclestone always says.
Yet the people running the sport seemed quite content, once they had reinstated the race on the flimsiest of grounds, to stand by and allow the rulers of Bahrain to claim that it would help them unite their divided country ? in effect, serving a political purpose ? until they were shamed into reversing their stance. They will be crossing their fingers in the hope of peace in Bahrain by next spring. And the next time a big decision comes his way, Todt will need to show a surer grasp of the principles of leadership.
Source: The Guardian (UK)