Pressure grows for rethink on grand prix in Bahrain

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Pressure was mounting on the motorsport authorities yesterday to reconsider the decision to go ahead with this year’s Bahrain Grand Prix.

MP Richard Burden, who is active in Parliament on the subjects of both the Middle East and motorsport, echoed a call by former world champion Damon Hill for Formula One governing body the FIA to think again about holding the race on April 22.

Mr Burden, Labour MP for Birmingham Northfield, said: “Damon Hill is right to call on the governing body of motorsport to rethink its decision to go ahead with this year’s Bahrain Grand Prix.

“I say that as someone who is a motorsport nut as well as an MP with a keen interest in the Middle East.

“The inquiry which the Bahrain government set up into the events on its streets last year proved to be more independent than many expected and there is no doubt that there are those amongst the country’s rulers seeking genuine reform. It is also true that not all the problems in Bahrain come from one side.

“In a context where genuine and sustainable reform is taking place, holding a grand prix could be a unifying event for the people of Bahrain as well as a positive showcase on the world stage. But things are not at that stage.

“Since February last year, 45 people have died on Bahrain’s streets. The latest victim was killed by live ammunition only last week.

“Hundreds of protesters gathered at the cemetery near his home outside the capital, Manama. Reports say riot police fired tear gas and stun grenades into the crowds, setting off running street clashes.”

He added: “Bahrain is nothing like as bad as the terrible situation in Syria. And F1 teams do race in other countries with unenviable human rights records.

“But that does not mean it is right for F1 to collude in presenting to the outside world a cocooned picture of normality at the Bahrain International Circuit, when what is likely to be going on just few miles outside the circuit could be very different indeed.

“In hindsight, the FIA should not have scheduled the 2012 race so early in the season. It was always going to be too early to know how far things had moved on in Bahrain since last year. F1 can’t turn the clock back but, with three weeks to go before the race, it can still rethink. It should do so.”

Hill was vocal a year ago at a time when the season-opening event was postponed in the wake of anti-government protests that resulted in a number of deaths before it was cancelled completely.

But following a visit to the Gulf kingdom earlier this year, alongside FIA president Jean Todt, he expressed his support and championed the positive aspects the race could bring to Bahrain.

Since then, though, the protests have continued, and Hill said on Thursday: “What we must put above all else is what will be the penalty in terms of human cost if the race goes ahead.

“It would be a bad state of affairs, and bad for Formula One, to be seen to be enforcing martial law in order to hold the race.”