In a piece I wrote a few weeks ago, I talked about the insanity of the FIA and Formula One bulldozing ahead with plans to race at Bahrain last Sunday. I write about racing all the time – all kinds of racing, 52 weeks a year – and felt sufficiently informed about the situation in Bahrain to comment.
In retrospect, I was wrong. Formula One had every right to race there last weekend and now I’m glad it did. And one of the reasons I’ve changed my mind is because of the piling-on that’s going on around the world by intelligentsia who could give two hoots about F1 racing but are quick to take any opportunity that comes along to take a shot at it.
When I wrote my critique, I did it from the perspective of F1 people being out of touch – which is a position I am comfortable defending. I really don’t think the people at the pinnacle of that sport – the owners, the drivers, the organizers – know, or care about, what’s going on in the world.
I think that all they think about is racing – and quotes from just about everybody from Bernie Ecclestone and Jean Todt to the drivers reflect this: they all could not understand why the sport of F1, an entertainment, was even being talked about in the context of human rights violations and oppression.
In short, their words suggested they were oblivious to what was going on.
But so what? With the exception, arguably, of Todt, they are all employees and bound by the terms of their contracts or work agreements to show up to race where a race is scheduled. And there was a race scheduled in Bahrain last Sunday, so they had to go.
(I don’t want to go off on a tangent, but – yes – Ecclestone has a boss. He reports to CVC Capital Partners Funds, majority owners of F1, and is charged with making as much money for CVC as possible – and don’t sneer; your bank or credit union , meaning you, might very well be benefitting from involvement with CVC.)
When other people wrote their critiques, much of it holier-than-thou, by the way, they didn’t know the facts or they wouldn’t have been so blase about voicing their objections to either the race taking place or having taken place.
First, F1 signed a multi-year contract with the motoring authorities in that kingdom several years ago to show up once a year and stage a Grand Prix. F1 contracts involve huge amounts of money as well as huge financial penalties if one side, or the other, fails to honour its agreement.
Which meant that a year ago, when 35 people were killed during protests and there was millions of dollars in property damage, the motoring federation in Bahrain called off the race – a wise decision at the time – and paid millions to F1 in compensation.
A contract was again in place for 2012 and this time the Bahrain authorities insisted on the race going ahead.
Todt said the FIA conducted extensive investigations before making a final decision on whether or not to go and couldn't find anything "that could allow us to stop the race. On rational facts, it was decided there was no reason to change our mind."
And although the chattering classes are pointing fingers and condemning F1, the last time I looked no country – including Canada – had severed diplomatic relations over the situation there, or even issued a travel advisory. So why should F1 be any different than any individual or any company/government doing business with Bahrain?
The teams, of course, are largely financed, directly or indirectly, by Middle Eastern money. McLaren International is 40 per cent owned by Bahraini interests. Other teams have silent partners in the region; the manufacturers sell millions of dollars of product and attract many more millions in investment.
So if the people who control many of the teams' purse strings demand F1's presence, who’s going to stand up and say no if there’s no compelling reason not to?
The drivers, of course, will go where they are told to go. With one or two exceptions (Sebastien Vettel, Michael Schumacher), F1 drivers – or any top driver in any top series, for that matter – can be replaced by a phone call, so none are going to refuse to race for fear of losing their employment.
So, the government of the country that hosts the race says it wants the show to go on, countries around the world consider the place to be situation normal, the teams are bound by their agreement to race in F1 (the Concorde Agreement) to go to where the races are, the teams owe much of their financial stability to the very region where the race is scheduled, and the drivers have to do as they are told.
So who among us has any right whatsoever to be critical?
I know it’s not nice there. One death is one too many, in my books. But why the fuss over Bahrain when many of the people pointing the finger at F1 had no difficulty packing up and travelling to China to either attend or to cover the 2008 Olympics?
There might be humans rights abuses in Bahrain but they pale beside China’s. Never mind the atrocities committed by Mao; up until 2006, they conducted public executions by firing squad in sports stadiums there.
The international community maintained all along, however, that the rationale behind taking the Olympics to China was that human rights reforms would be accelerated. And maybe they have been.
At the end of the day, perhaps that’s what will happen in Bahrain as the result of the F1 race there.