Red Bull Racing star Mark Webber has expressed his disappointment with the FIA for electing to reschedule the Bahrain Grand Prix later on this season, slating it as the wrong decision and stressing that 'F1 and sport in general isn't above having a social responsibility and conscience'.
Ahead of the meeting of the governing body's World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) in Barcelona on Friday to come to a final resolution on the matter – one of F1's hottest topics since the planned 2011 curtain-raiser on 13 March had to be cancelled following the outbreak of anti-government riots and violent pro-democracy protests in the desert kingdom – Webber had been the sole member of the current grand prix grid to speak out on the subject, tweeting that 'when people in a country are being hurt, the issues are bigger than sport'.
The beleaguered race has now been controversially reinstated on the F1 2011 calendar on 30 October – forcing the inaugural Indian Grand Prix back to an early-to-mid December date – against the wishes of the sport's teams and a move that has been fiercely criticised by human rights groups, in the light of the fact that even as the announcement was being made, the Bahraini government's reportedly brutal crackdown on dissidents and political activists showed few signs of abating.
Online petitions are urging teams to boycott the grand prix, with one now boasting almost 400,000 signatures, and the Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA) – representing every competitor aside from tail-ender Hispania Racing – has revealed that the WMSC's decision 'is likely to be discussed internally within FOTA, and a more detailed joint position may be defined after those discussions have taken place'.
FOTA's position, however, is complicated somewhat in that its chairman is McLaren-Mercedes team principal Martin Whitmarsh – whose own team's largest shareholder is Bahraini government-owned holding company Mumtalakat – whilst fellow member, Ferrari counterpart Stefano Domenicali, was involved in the WMSC reunion. Webber clearly believes that after the FIA so notably failed to take a moral stand, the teams may well adopt one of their own – and that they would be entirely right to do so.
“My opinion is unchanged since I was first asked about this in late February,” the Australian wrote on his personal website. “Even though a decision has been made, I'll be highly surprised if the Bahrain Grand Prix goes ahead this year.
“In my personal opinion, the sport should have taken a much firmer stance earlier this year rather than constantly delaying its decision in the hope of being able to reschedule it in 2011. It would have sent a very clear message about F1's position on something as fundamental as human rights and how it deals with moral issues.
“It's obvious that the parties involved have struggled to reach a decision, but sadly, I feel that they still haven't made the right one. Like it or not, F1 and sport in general isn't above having a social responsibility and conscience. I hope F1 is able to return to Bahrain eventually, but now isn't the right time.
“As a competitor, I do not feel at all comfortable going there to compete in an event when, despite reassurances to the contrary, it seems inevitable that it will cause more tension for the people of that country. I don't understand why my sport wishes to place itself in a position to be a catalyst for that.”