F1 Trash: Bernie Ecclestone Takes a Swing At Sultans of Bahrain

This week is the Canadian Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Montreal. We will get to that shortly, but perhaps the most significant news from the Circus this week is the swing of F1 from reinstating the Bahrain Grand Prix, which was previously pulled from its season opening slot in mid-March due to civil unrest and corresponding governmental oppression, to again yanking it from the schedule.

The race was called-off Friday after Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) announced its withdrawal to stage the event in the wake of objections from the teams and its drivers. The FIA’s World Motor Sport Council last Friday had re-instated the race to October (28-30) but removal of it now is most likely to make way for the staging of the inaugural Indian Grand Prix on the same dates.

“We will be back to normal. We have to put it to the World Council. I sent something this morning, so it will be quick,” Ecclestone was quoted as saying by The Guardian Wednesday.

Ecclestone, while defending his earlier decision, said the teams had the right to object to the re-scheduling of the race that was cancelled in March due to anti-government protests.

“The truth of the matter is we put the calendar together and the teams race on the calendar,” he said. “We were trying to help Bahrain, who have been very helpful to Formula One, and hoping they could get themselves sorted out.

“I don’t know whether there is peace or not. I have no idea. The FIA sent somebody out to check and they said it was all OK. I think the teams had different information and they have the right to say they don’t want to change the calendar.”

Since not everybody can translate jive, here is the deal. After the Arab Spring uprising in Egypt began in late January and started to spread, there was a brutal crackdown on protesters in Bahrain. A wave of pressure was placed on F1 and its governing body FIA by supporters of the protesters and reform movement to pull the Grand Prix. I certainly doubt I was responsible for diddly squat, but I was among the early suggesters that putting the GP in play would be perhaps the biggest single blow that could be leveraged against the oppressive Bahraini government and the Khalifa clan that owns, runs, and dictates it.

They paid dearly and through the nose to build the facility and buy their way into the F1 schedule and, like the crown jewels to a monarchy, it is the very symbol of their belonging and relevance in the international community. It means everything to them. To Bernie Ecclestone, who does not just run F1, he IS F1, it is simply a giant wad of money. And Bernie likes money. Having seen Bernie in action over three plus decades, and casually meeting him a couple of times, my take is Ecclestone does not care about the Shia, Sunni, Arab Spring, oppression or anything else; the bottom line is his and F1’s deal. So, when Bernie said:

“The FIA sent somebody out to check and they said it was all OK. I think the teams had different information and they have the right to say they don’t want to change the calendar.”

What he meant was he sent someone to make sure the Khalifas had their little civil rights problem sufficiently snuffed out to allow the beautiful people to bring the circus to town. Here is how Foreign Poiicy’s Blake Hounshell aptly described it last Tuesday:

In making its decision, the FIA sent a “fact-finding mission” to Bahrain in late May to determine whether it would be safe to hold the race, which was canceled earlier this year amid the violence. According to Formula 1 chief Bernie Eccelstone, quoted in the Guardian, “The FIA sent people out there to check on the situation, they came back and reported everything is fine.”

The report, a copy of which was provided to FP by the New York-based human rights group Avaaz, was signed by FIA Vice President Carlos Gracia, who traveled to Bahrain on May 30 and May 31 along with an assistant, Carlos Abella.

It appears to be a complete whitewash.

According to the report, Gracia and Abella met with several government officials, including Minister of Culture Mai bint Mohammed al-Khalifa, Interior Minister Rashid bin Abdullah al-Khalifa, Public Security Chief Maj. Gen. Tariq bin Dana, Bahrain International Circuit Chairman Zayed R. al-Zayani, and BIC CEO Salman bin Eissa al-Khalifa — and seem to have accepted their views uncritically.

They also met with Tariq al-Saffar of the pro-grovernment National Institute of Human Rights, who was appointed in 2010 by King Hamad. (Saffar is also managing director of advertising firm Fortune Promoseven, which lists the F1 Grand Prix as a client.)

Gracia and Abella did dine with several unnamed foreign business leaders — a dinner arranged by their government host — but met with zero members of the opposition or with independent rights groups, and did not tour Shiite neighborhoods that have reportedly been under siege for weeks, though they did visit a shopping mall.

And that would have been fine for Ecclestone, but the drivers and teams had other ideas. When F1 constructors – the actual teams – and respected commentators and former drivers like Martin Brundle start jawing that it is a mistake to sully the F1 brand with a trip to the oppressive Bahrain, it starts to leave a mark. Heck even Max Mosely, who has some issues with repressive governments, slammed it as a stupid idea:

“By running the race they hope to show the world the troubles were just a small, temporary difficulty and everything is now back to normal” said the 71-year-old.

“By agreeing to race there, Formula One becomes complicit in what has happened. It becomes one of the Bahrain government’s instruments of repression. The decision to hold the race is a mistake which will not be forgotten and, if not reversed, will eventually cost Formula One dear.”

Ouch. And, so, Bahrain is pulled again. Good; Max Mosely is exactly right in the message and damage that would have been done. If only the US Government and Barack Obama would have the decency and balls to call out their little client oil sultans for who they are and what they are doing. When Max Mosely and Bernie Ecclestone are making you look like moral midgets, it is time to recalibrate. Let’s hope the US does just that.

Now, back to the Canadian Grand Prix that is up on the plate this weekend. As said above, it is at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Montreal. It is a fast course, but not particularly exciting not overly taxing on the drivers’ skill set. With the new rules and tire situation in place in F1 for 2011, pit ability and strategy could be critical. The walls are also a little tricky and unforgiving, as even Sebastian Vettel found in practice. As seems to truly befit the talent that young Vettel is (seriously, the guy is on a Senna trajectory), he and Red Bull recovered to claim pole. That is six out of seven poles this year for the German, with the remaining one seized by Red Bull teammate Mark Webber. that is pretty dominating.

But Ferrari is getting its act together and closing the competitive gap with the Red Bull boys, with Alonso and Massa taking P2 and P3 respectively. Michael Schumacher, somewhat sadly, continues to be outpaced by fellow Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg, a nice little driver but, unlike Vettel, will never be compared to Senna or Schumacher in his prime. That said, as Brad Spurgeon notes, Michael is certainly not embarrassing himself and, while improved over the initial two years of his “comeback”, his Mercedes equipment is certainly no match for the Red Bulls, Ferraris or McLarens.

The race is broadcast live on Fox instead of SpeedTV this week, with coverage starting at 1 PM EST and 10 AM PST.

  1. nomolos says:

    The race is broadcast live on Fox instead of SpeedTV this week, with coverage starting at 1 PM EST and 10 AM PST.

    It is also on BBC which can be accessed on the ‘net so there is no need to suffer with fox that, yesterday, delayed “Live” qualifying by an hour to accomodate the around and around cars in Pocono….bloody awful.

    I hope it is OK to give the link to reach all world sports.

  2. JTMinIA says:

    Not F1, but….

    Did all the GT drivers get together and decide to knock the Audis out of LeMans or what?

      • JTMinIA says:

        Cool that their third car could still win. But, man, both of those hits on the #1 and #3 Audis were ridiculous. Both were cases of a slower-class car not giving room. As someone who has had that happen (in my case, it was a stock Honda clipping my left rear), the rage you feel is hard to describe.

  3. rosalind says:

    sports related: HBO’s new “McEnroe/Borg: Fire & Ice” is a must see for anyone who, like me, sat in front of the TV transfixed by the 1980 Wimbledon tie-break. Lots of great footage, and the counterpoint interviews with Borg & McEnroe alternate between hilarious and poignant.

  4. bmaz says:

    Well, this is exciting! We got teh wet in Canada! Now that will turn Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in to a great run, and that is exactly what we have in the early laps.

    Oooooops, the McLarens just took each other out – hey this is getting fun.

  5. sluggahjells says:

    What a mistake that was by Button and Hamilton, and Hamilton this time wasn’t fully at fault, but still, what a mess again for the still young former world champion.

    • bmaz says:

      Hamilton is gathering a reputation rather quickly as a bit of a petulant driver. It was easy to tag him today, but Button had some fault too it looked to me.

  6. Petrocelli says:

    *Note to Phred*I hope y’all RedSox fans will appreciate the Jays’ attempt to boost your team by playing so badly …

    • CTuttle says:

      *heh* And that sweep in Toronto is coming off a sweep in Da Bronx…! I’m sure the Evil Empire just wanted to boost their spirits too…! ;-)

  7. JTMinIA says:

    Rain rain go away….

    I think I’ll go out and wash the car, since my daughter wants me to pick her up from her first date (ack!) in it.

      • JTMinIA says:

        Funny you should say that. My daughter’s date went OK, but she seems a bit quiet/nervous when I picked her up (she’s eleven). So we did what we often do when we need some release … went and tore up some dirt. Have to say, the street Advans are a terrible rallycross tire. Absolutely terrible. But the spirit-of-the-moment would have been ruined by going home to swap wheels and it was still enough to make us happy. We both can’t want until next summer when she’ll be old enough to be in the car for 2nd-gear-max events.

        Great finish to the race, by the way.

  8. sluggahjells says:

    I think Schumacher is in great enough shape where he has a lot of his powers.

    I don’t think he would step back in Formula 1 if he did not feel he could be at his optimum best again. Even with factory Mercedes arguably being just the fourth fastest team, they are must more competitive than last year it appears.

    • bmaz says:

      Vettel’s rear tires were shot apparently; pretty good driving that his slip was not much worse if that was the case. Great race. Wow, it just doesn’t get better than that. So many great drives by so many drivers – Massa edging out Kobayashi literally by three inches side by side at the finish line for points P6 position. The Russian Petrov quietly and professionally finishing at P5. Simply Outstanding.

  9. sluggahjells says:

    Petrov deserves that……a talented young driver for Russia who just needed a better card to show his talent .

    I am annoyed however how F1 always just wants to race the weekend when Le Mans 24 is happening ……I wish they would just act classy for a change and let Le Mans have the weekend to itself (the same with Moto GP).

    Worried that their drivers may want to race at Le Mans, thumbs down.

  10. bobschacht says:

    What? Trash talk about racing, but not about the NBA Finals, with a champion to be identified either today, or a few days hence?

    The secret to winning an NBA crown includes team defense, especially in the 4th quarter, as well as intense mental and physical focus and discipline. And, oh yes, talent. This year the Celtics had the first two, but not the third (they’re getting too old). The Heat seemed to have all three in the semi-finals, but not consistently so in the finals against the Mavs. Lebron James has been a 4th quarter bust. There are times when he reminds me of Magic Johnson. Other times, not so much. This version of the Heat has only been together for a year, and their team play and team discipline has not yet matured.

    On the other hand, the Mavs are a transformed team. This is the best I’ve ever seen them play. Used to be that Dirk was a whiner and complainer– if he wasn’t whining or complaining to the refs, he was whining and complaining about how his team-mates were letting him down. And he’d let up as soon as he thought the winner had been decided. Not this year. They keep surprising me. They could win it all tonight. And they’re doing it with two former members of the Phoenix Suns (my fave team): Jason Kidd, and Shawn Marion! And they both score in double digits a lot.

    I predict the Mavs will win it in 7. If the Heat wins it, their heads will get too big, and they’ll be insufferable.

    Bob in AZ

    Both teams have lost a home game, but the Heat has home court advantage.

    • bobschacht says:

      Mavs win series, 4-2!
      For the first three quarters, Nowitzki contributed almost no offense. But he again showed up for the 4th quarter.

      Dallas played better as a team than Miami did. Miami has three phenomenal athletes who haven’t learned to play together as a team. Labron James, as good as he is, has not learned how to play without the ball on a consistent basis. Miami needs to learn how to deal with the Zone defense (Dallas confused them by switching into and out of a zone defense).

      Miami will win the championship within a year or two, if they learn how to address these issues.

      Bob in AZ