The Bahrain Grand Prix will return to the F1 2011 calendar, it has been confirmed following today's reunion of the FIA World Motor Sport Council (WMSC), with the postponed race being parachuted back into the schedule in the slot originally slated for the inaugural Indian Grand Prix.
Having originally been due to host the 2011 curtain-raiser on 13 March, Bahrain was unable to welcome F1 following the outbreak of civil unrest and violent political protests in the desert kingdom a month earlier. The fate of the race has hung in the balance ever since, as the troubles have persisted and the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone have weighed up the potential benefits and pitfalls of going back there before the season is out.
The sport's teams and drivers have made little secret of their misgivings about returning to a nation blighted by oppression and where at least 30 people have been killed since the anti-government, pro-democracy uprising began. Shortly prior to the announcement that the grand prix will
go ahead, Amnesty International UK had issued a media briefing condemning what it describes as a brutal crackdown on dissidents and reporting that 'serious human rights violations continue to be committed in Bahrain'.
Those have included hundreds of arrests – adding that 'in April, at least four detainees died in custody in suspicious circumstances' – 'unprovoked assaults', 'torture', trials resulting in prison sentences for those convicted of 'participating in illegal demonstrations' and 'inciting hatred' against the government, 'excessive use of force and unlawful killings' and more than two thousand job dismissals or suspensions for taking part in the protests.
The human rights organisation adds that 'the [Bahraini] government has failed to conduct independent investigations into alleged abuses by Bahraini security forces in response to peaceful and other public protests in February and March...these include the use of lethal and other excessive force against protestors, and assaults on medical workers seeking to help the wounded'.
A Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) employee, meanwhile, has told Reuters
that some 28 of the 108 local staff at the track were arrested, detained for 20 days, insulted, mistreated and sacked – with five still remaining in prison, the chief financial officer Jaafar Almansoor amongst them, and those released warned against speaking to the media.
“They made us beat and kick each other,” revealed the unnamed employee. “They said they'd rape us. They tried to touch you in various places to make you think it's going to happen.”
Former FIA President Max Mosley had asserted that to return to Bahrain this year would almost be tantamount to 'using F1 as an instrument of repression' and that 'to go will be a public relations disaster' [see separate story – click here
], whilst Red Bull Racing star Mark Webber had tweeted that 'when people in a country are being hurt, the issues are bigger than sport'.
Speaking personally rather than as the President of the British Racing Drivers' Club (BRDC), meanwhile, former world champion Damon Hill had similarly opined that F1 'will forever have the blight of association with repressive methods to achieve order' should it return in 2011.