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Where have all the boycotts gone? // The Bahrain Grand Prix proves a lack of paddock backbone

Published by Steven Roy

Way back, when racing was welcome in Bahrain
Way back, when racing was welcome in BahrainCredit: Clive Mason/Getty Images

Despite the fact that it is obvious to practically everyone that the 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix should not happen it still appears that it will take place. Even previous apologists like Damon Hill have woken up and smelled the coffee and gone public with the view that the only sensible thing to do is for F1 not to go to Bahrain this year.

There was a time when teams and drivers would boycott for much more trivial reasons although I am not sure drivers ever considered their own earning potential to be more trivial than anything else. We have had races boycotted for safety reasons, for reasons of F1 politics and for reasons of retaliation. But those people were very different characters from the modern corporate sheep. Team owners then were either major companies or genuine independents. Now most of the independents have shareholdings that mean they can no longer be run at the whim of the 'boss' and there are no longer any mainstream car manufacturers for whom F1 is a minor issue compared to their main business.

The long and short of it is that we no longer have drivers like Jackie Stewart or Niki Lauda who are prepared to stand up to the powers that be come what may. These drivers and a few others not only went to war with the powers in the sport, they won. Unfortunately nowadays so many of the leading drivers are too young to have any real global perspective and those that are old enough have lived their lives in a bubble where their experience of all the countries they have visited is private planes and helicopters followed by 7 star hotels that insulate them from the realities of life.

I have never been a fan of Michael Schumacher but despite all his many faults he almost alone has an understanding of what is really important and that major events are more important than a mere motor race. It was him, along with his brother, who tried to get the Monza race cancelled after 9/11 because he was so upset by what he had seen. Regardless of the circumstances it takes a lot of bottle for a Ferrari driver to try to get the Italian GP cancelled.

I would like to see him along with the likes of Alonso, Button and Webber organise a driver's protest. If the drivers - or even a sizeable minority of the top drivers - refuse to have any part of this, the race cannot go ahead. Unfortunately I don't see it happening.

If the race goes ahead you have to consider how protestors will use it to get their message across. They are unlikely to be able to get banners and the like into the circuit and even if they did it is unlikely to have any real effect either domestically or internationally. When I think about spectator protests in F1 only two spring to mind and both of those used the same method. A spectator found a way through or over safety barriers and on to the track. Defrocked priest Neil Horan did it at Silverstone and a disgruntled sacked former Mercedes employee did the same at Hockenheim. In each case it was terrifying to watch. It doesn't take a huge stretch of imagination to picture a co-ordinated protest in Bahrain that results in a hundred spectators trying to get on different parts of the track at the same time.

If the teams and drivers don't have the good sense or bottle to boycott this race then I think the fans should. I have never chosen not to watch a GP in the 34 years since we have had live TV coverage. When people have talked about boycotts because of F1 political reasons I have always refused to have anything to do with it but this is very different. It is time we showed Bernie that we will not just accept whatever he gives us. We have accepted all the Tilkedromes while great circuits were dropped. We have accepted far too many things that made the sport worse but we cannot accept the sport putting innocent people's lives in danger.

If a driver dies in a racing accident it is because he chose to put his life in danger. He knew the risks and decided they were acceptable. That is his right. It is not acceptable for people to be put at risk simply because they live in a country where the government is prepared to pay obscene amounts of money just to have a motor race and to prioritise that race above the safety of its people.

If it is unacceptable for Turkey to have a Turkish Cypriot politician present a trophy because that meant the Turkish ASN were using F1 for political reasons then it must be clear that the Bahraini ASN is in breach of the same rule for using a race to pretend that normality has returned to the country. Presumably Bernie would also be in breach of the same rule for allowing the race to go ahead despite being fully aware of the situation and for constantly putting out statements saying the race will go ahead which can only serve to raise the tension in Bahrain.

I am still not convinced the race in Bahrain will take place. I am still convinced that Bernie is playing his own infantile game of brinkmanship because in his mind all publicity for F1 is good publicity. My inclination right now is to totally ignore everything that happens in Bahrain if the race goes ahead. I feel like I should ignore not only live coverage of the event but also news reports and even any Christine's Rankings points that result from it. Unfortunately I have to be aware of the championship points situation for future events to make any sense but beyond that I really don't want anything to do with the race.




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