Let’s not go to Bahrain

Unlike any other country in the world, F1 is a focal point in Bahrain. For the government, bringing F1 is intended to unify the nation and show that things are back to normal. For the protestors, F1 is a sign that the government will not listen. F1 represents those who have been killed and tortures.
But regardless of politics, human nature is what tells me it is not safe to travel to Bahrain. How easily a peaceful protest can turn to violence, whatever country you are in and whatever the intentions of the organisers.
From past experience, I fear the Bahrain government will exert a large amount of force on the protestors and arrest many during the F1 weekend. This will cause a response. The government will not target F1 personnel of course, but what about the protestors? Off the track is dangerous enough, and if they can get onto the track who knows what they will do?
I fear for the GP2 and F1 men and women who are heading out to the country. Their lives are in danger, and I will be praying my heart out to God for their safety.
Put money aside for once, Bernie Ecclestone. Postponing/cancelling Bahrain will not be a sign one way or the other. If you leave because of safety fears against the protestors, that is not supporting the protestors. It is also not supporting the government. F1 can ill afford another death. F1 has a great safety record mechanically. Let’s keep it a great safety record from a human standpoint too. Bernie, where will F1 be if someone is kidnapped or dies? Nobody will watch it. You will not have any money then. So come on, do the sensible thing. Cancel Bahrain before you lose F1 altogether.

If you want to watch a different racing series the weekend of the Bahrain GP, it’s the opening weekend of the Formula Renault NEC. It seems the series is oversubscribed – you can take a look at the massive entry list here – so there will be a lot of great young future F1 drivers on track. This includes Josh Hill (son of Damon, grandson of Graham), and my personal favourite Jordan King.
I’m not sure where/if you’ll be able to watch it on TV, but hopefully somewhere will have it.

Let’s hope it doesn’t have to come down to boycotting Bahrain. Bernie Ecclestone will have a lot to answer for if it does.

GP2 and GP3 calendars announced

The 2012 GP2 calendar was released today, and as well as supporting the European F1 races, GP2 will also support the Malaysia, Bahrain and Singapore Grands Prix. There will also be a second Bahrain round in a standalone event one week after the first round.
Malaysia will open the proceedings in March, giving Anglo-Malaysian team Caterham a home race. Next is the double-header at Bahrain, before they follow the European F1 season. After Monza, the teams head out to Singapore. I am curious to know whether the Singapore races will be in the day (as with the Abu Dhabi GP2 final) or at night.
Some of the drivers do not seem to be happy about the Bahrain repetition. James Calado on his Twitter said: “Bahrain twice.. Stupid” His thoughts are backed up by fans. If you’re going to have two rounds at the same track, why not make it somewhere more exciting? Even ignoring the political situation, Sakhir has never been the most enthralling place to race.

The GP3 calendar features seven guaranteed races on the European circuits, and one hopeful at Monaco. Last year GP3 were unable to race there due to a lack of garage space, but despite the inclusion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series, they are trying again. Good luck!

Meanwhile, Force India have finally confirmed what we all knew – their 2012 lineup will be Scot Paul di Resta alongside German and Brazil 2010 polesitter Nico Hulkenberg. It’s a young but skilled team who should do well. Nico Hulkenberg, the 2009 GP2 champion, was dropped from Williams after 2010 despite securing that pole. This was so that the team could hire better-funded Pastor Maldonado. But Williams had a disastrous 2011, while Force India (who hired Hulkenberg as reserve driver) finished very close behind fifth-placed Renault this year.
After driving for five years at Midland/Spyker/Force India, Adrian Sutil now has to move on. He is a good driver, but has probably reached the limit of his potential. Meanwhile di Resta and Hulkenberg are yet to prove themselves, and both shone in their rookie seasons. With an improving team and two potential champion drivers, Force India should do well in 2012.

Hanging up the racing gloves

The Bahrain Grand Prix is now definitely not going ahead after organisers agreed that the calendar reshuffle was causing major problems for the teams. At least it wasn’t politically motivated, and we will probably see the Grand Prix return in nine months’ time in March 2012. So we’ll be sticking to the original calendar. This is a good result. Hopefully with India being in a different time zone, I will still be able to watch the Formula Two anyway, since the season finale is on that date.

Meanwhile, Sir Stirling Moss has – at the age of 81 – finally hung up his racing gloves for good. Moss, who was qualifying for the Le Mans Legends event this weekend, was not comfortable driving a Porsche RS61 in the event, and has decided that it’s time to stop. He’s had a great career:

  • 16 F1 Grands Prix wins
  • Three Monaco wins
  • Runner-up in the world championship four times
  • Came second twice at Le Mans
  • Won the Mille Miglia, the Targa Florio, the Sebring 12 hours
  • And much more…

He didn’t compete much in the first few years of Formula One, though he was an active racer and took on some events, but from 1955 he began competing more seriously and only missed out the Indy 500. From 1955-1958 he came second in the championship, and from 1959-1961 he came third before moving on from F1. He won the British Grand Prix twice in 1955 with Mercedes and 1957 with Vanwall. He also came second in 1959. He drove in various chassis including Cooper, Lotus, Maserati and Mercedes.

Bernie speaks against the FIA

Sorry I’ve been a bit quiet on the blogging front recently. However, the only thing to talk about is Bahrain. With the FIA’s insane decision to run the race on the date scheduled for the Indian GP, and bump that GP to December, then today’s announcement by Bernie that he opposes this move… it’s all spiralling out of control. Even if Bahrain had sorted itself out, pushing the date of the Indian GP after fans have booked flights and accomodation is bound to cause anger.
Bernie can be expected to set himself up against the FIA. While he gives the impression that he doesn’t care about the morality of it, he does see that public opinion will turn against F1 if the race goes ahead, and we’ll have ourselves a similar situation to the 1985 South African Grand Prix. Bernie is always on a knife edge when it comes to the fans. If he can get the teams to be on his side and against the FIA, he’s won again. Bernie is very good at seeing where the opinion is going and putting himself on the right side of it.
FOTA have said that they would prefer the Indian GP is returned to its October 30th date, but are willing to discuss holding the Bahrain GP later in the year, probably December. This is despite their earlier complaints about logistics. The Indian GP organisers say they have not received any official confirmation of the date change, and are going to be ready to go on the 30th.

Meanwhile, Jean Todt has announced that of the 21 races on the calendar for 2012, at least one will be dropped. Will it be struggling-to-pay Turkey? There have been problems in Australia with Melbourne. And we could always have one less Grand Prix in Spain: Valencia or Catalunya? Then again, will Bahrain survive to 2012? Whatever happens, we shall see.

In Formula Two, they were having a test day today at the Snetterton track. This has recently been redeveloped, and fans were given the opportunity to name the straights and turns. So it has a Senna straight, Hamilton, Williams and Brundle turns. It also has a Palmer turn, named after the man who relaunched Formula Two and designed the circuit Jonathan Palmer. It must be a bit strange to go there and drive with all these familiar-named turns. Especially for Alex Brundle. If he went off at the turn named after his dad, it would be “Brundle has gone off at Brundle”. I suppose it’s a good thing they only have the F2 test here, and not a race. Full results on the Formula Two website.

Joshua King joins F2

British racing driver Jordan King will be making his Formula Two debut at Spa at the end of this month. He will also do the Nurburgring and Brands Hatch races. The driver is also competing in Formula Renault UK. Aged just 17, he will be driving in the F2 test at Snetterton next week as the youngest-ever F2 driver. He only gave up karting last year, and began competing in the Formula Renault winter cup coming 15th with 43 points. This year he is 7th in FR 2.0 UK, with 82 points after the same number of races as the winter cup (although to be fair there are only 12 drivers who have competed in every race thus far). He drives for Manor in that series.

As you probably already know, the FIA has voted to reinstate the Bahrain Grand Prix. It will go ahead on October 30th, and the Indian GP will be moved to December. In all likelihood, the championship will have been decided by then since Vettel is doing so fantastically. Max Mosley has criticised this decision as being a PR disaster, and since he knows all about PR disasters he’s a fair critic. Damon Hill is backing those opposed to the race. A majority of fans are also opposed and many will boycott the race. I will also do so, though it pains me greatly to miss a race. It would have been better for the FIA to skip the race for this year, especially with Bahrain heading up next year’s season.
The FIA released the provisional calendar for 2012 today, with an incredible 21 races. The season would start on March 11th with Bahrain and Australia back-to-back, then Malaysia and China back-to-back after a two week break. Korea will be moved to the first half of the season and come two weeks after China. Then Turkey (subject to confirmation by the Turkish officials), Spain, Monaco, Canada and the new US Grand Prix back-to-back, Valencia, Britain, Germany and Hungary back-to-back, then the summer break. Belgium and Italy will go back-to-back, then a two week break before Singapore, then Japan, India, Abu Dhabi and Brazil to end the season. It’s good to see that Brazil will end the season, on November 25th. It’s still a long season, with a lot of back-to-back races squashed in to make it fit the schedule. Of course they’ll have to change the regulations, as right now there’s a maximum limit of 20. This will not go down well at all with the teams, who struggle enough with the 20 we have this year.

Should I stay or should I go now (to Bahrain)

Whatever the situation is in Bahrain, whether or not it has calmed down, whether or not the stories coming out of that country are true or false, Bernie Ecclestone would be a foolish man to give the race the go-ahead this year. For the majority of fans – casual or serious – Bahrain is basically a no-go zone, and holding the race there would tarnish F1’s reputation for a long time. As the sport depends on the revenues from the TV audience, this would be a bad idea.
When the events in Bahrain began, I was struck dumb by the fact that the government attacked a hospital for treating rebel soldiers. Hospitals are meant to be a place of healing, not hurt. Doctors are not meant to be discriminatory. I know that Bahraini culture may have a different outlook on whether it is okay to protest or not, but in my opinion attacking a hospital is just wrong. Since the initial protests, we haven’t had a lot of news from the country. Stories come out from time to time over human rights abuses. It’s a real shock for these to be coming out of what had, before then, been a non-opressive Middle Eastern nation.
Of course, other countries have their own problems with human rights: China, for example. Yet China’s Grand Prix goes ahead. This is because China is concerned with its appearance to the world, so hosting an event like F1 will cause it to behave better. For Bahrain, however, the Grand Prix will be regarded as an opportunity by the protestors. Things could easily escalate again. The race also has a much bigger status in Bahrain than China – did you see the empty grandstands at Shanghai? – placing a far greater impact on the Bahraini economy. In China, tourists are easy to pull in to Shanghai, Beijing, Xi’an etc. But what’s the draw for Bahrain?
The decision on the Bahrain GP will have a massive impact on the economy of that country. Go, and the country may survive – or no tourists will come anyway because of the country’s changed image, in which case it will lose money. Don’t go, and Bahrain doesn’t lose the entry fee but does lose the income from tourism. Go, and there’s the danger of more protests. Don’t go, and the country risks a more permanent tarnishing of its reputation. On the other hand, they will only lose the race for this season. It is still probably going to go ahead next year.

But Bernie knows better than to bring politics into F1. He must be very careful about what reasons he gives for holding or not holding the race. Ross Brawn has pointed out that this will logistically be a nightmare for the teams. Yet still Bernie claims to be hopeful of bringing the race back to the country. Is this just so that he can say – when/if it is cancelled – that it was out of his hands? He will naturally want to maintain a good relationship with the country when the race returns in 2011.
Avaaz.org has launched a petition encouraging teams to boycott the race if it goes ahead. In particular they are focusing on Red Bull, because if Red Bull drop out then other teams will follow suit. As of writing, over 71,000 people have signed. You can too: here.

Bahrain due date changes

Bernie, the world’s most powerful dictator, strikes again. Once again he has had his own way against the committee of the FIA. Fans, I think, will be disappointed that they didn’t stick to their guns and draw a line after May 1st. Instead, the deadline for the decision over whether or not the Bahrain GP will go ahead has been moved to June 3rd.
Bahrain and Bernie Ecclestone both have a vested interest in seeing the race go ahead. But for the majority of fans, holding a GP there would be distateful and – contrary to what Bernie says – political. By holding a GP in Bahrain, Bernie will be seen as siding with the state government.

Maybe that’s why he asked for the deadline. He wants the situation to fade so that people move on to the next ‘big thing’. Right now too many people are against the GP for it to go ahead, as it would lose a large amount of fans. If Bernie waits, people will be less antagonistic towards Bahrain, much as we accept a GP in China for example. And then F1 won’t lose the fans.
I suspect Bahrain is ready to hold a Grand Prix now, but because of the attitude of Europeans towards the country they aren’t going to announce it. You wait. June 3rd we’ll have a Bahrain GP if the state government don’t go and do anything stupid between now and then.

Barcelona day 4 2011

It’s been a tough few weeks for Lotus, who have struggled to get in the laps at Valencia (power steering problems), Jerez and Barcelona (water leaks, and now a damaged and faulty car). At each test, they have done fewer kilometres than any of the other teams who have been running their 2011 car, and even HRT’s 2010 car has gone further. Reliability-wise, this is a problem, though the car has shown good pace when it has been working. Today’s running was cut short by a fault that caused Trulli to crash, though he was unhurt. Including the filming day in Jerez, they have done over 2400km. That’s okay, but less than half of Ferrari’s distance; the Italians have the most reliable car, though it has not always been the fastest.
Amongst the midrunners, Toro Rosso and Sauber – both struggling for points in 2010 – have shown good speed at all of the tests so far, but particularly Toro Rosso for whom this is their first completely self-made car, since they can’t just get a chassis off the Red Bull team any more.

Due to the cancellation/postponement of the Bahrain Grand Prix by the Crown Prince, the tests will also not be held there. The location and dates of the next test are thus TBC.

Apart from that, Massa went fastest with a 1:22.625 and Buemi’s Toro Rosso was third-fastest just behind Webber’s Red Bull. After Schumacher went off right at the end, D’Ambrosio’s Virgin went faster than him to go ninth fastest. I’ll be back with test coverage whenever the test goes ahead. Meanwhile, revise your countdown clocks: 32 days to Australian GP.

Bahrain GP in Danger

It’s 24 days to go until the Bahrain GP weekend, but things are really hotting up over there politically, and it remains to be seen whether or not the event will go ahead. Perhaps it would be better for Formula One to back out for now, as the protestors will see the Grand Prix as a prime opportunity to get their message out there. The image that goes through my head is of someone running into the path of an oncoming car, but there are also worries about what might happen on the start grid.
As things stand, the GP2 Asia race this weekend in the country is going ahead. I don’t know about the other teams, but Team AirAsia were supposed to get their freight at lunchtime today, but it hasn’t arrived yet. I hope this wasn’t caused by the problems in Bahrain, but it’s the first thing to come to mind. Hopefully it will arrive soon, and then they will be able to move into their garages at the track and get the cars ready for practice, qualifying and the feature race on Friday, and the sprint on Saturday.
GP2 isn’t really a big enough event for protestors to really go out to the track, but F1 is a much greater level. It has a massive TV audience, and the implications of an incident at an F1 race are massive.

In other news, Hispania have been filming in a wet Monza for Pirelli. Looks like they’re gonna be the team with the best knowledge of the wet tyres before the season starts!