Even though its return to the 2011 F1 calendar was trumpeted loudly by the FIA last Friday [HERE
], the Bahrain Grand Prix remains very much provisional depending on the political situation within the Gulf state.
The race, which should have opened the 2011 campaign back in March, was left in limbo after a public uprising led to fatalities amid clashes with security forces, before eventually being returned to the schedule last week. The move has not been universally welcomed, either by those who claim that human rights abuses continue as a result of the pro-democracy protests or by those in F1, who fear that the country may not be as safe as is being made out. FIA president Jean Todt, however, insists that the situation has 'stabilised' in recent weeks, leading to the decision to slot the race into the date previously held by India, which now becomes the season finale in December.
"Our special envoy had many meetings in Bahrain, even with the human rights people responsible," the Frenchman told the BBC
, referring to a report received from FIA vice-president Carlos Gracia, "Carlos' report was discussed by the World Council and the decision was taken to accept to re-programme the Bahrain Grand Prix in 2011. He found a stable situation, a quiet one, and we unanimously agreed."
Todt went on to claim, somewhat surprisingly, that the decision to reinstate the event had received backing from the various parties involved in the unrest, even though F1's annual visit is seen as an echo of the ruling family's dominant status.
"We got a request from the opposition to the government to run the event and Carlos met with many people, including those working on the circuit, those in all the suburbs of the capital, and the report came back after that," Todt continued, glossing over the fact that staff at Bahrain International Circuit were among those forced out of their jobs during the crackdown.
"The messages coming out are about peace, about restoring a good situation in this part of the world. Lots of other authorities have been encouraging [things] to go back to normal. My thinking is that, as a sporting body, we must support that."
Despite his optimism, however, Todt admitted that the situation would continue to be monitored closely, with the FIA reserving the right to pull the plug should the unrest flair again. The situation remains tense, with reports that marchers at a Shi'ite religious festival were attacked by police on Sunday night. According to Reuters
, tear gas, rubber bullets, sound grenades and birdshot were all used to break up marches in villages around the capital Manama.
"If we have clear evidence that there is a risky situation, this will obviously be taken into consideration," Todt confirmed, even as his appraisal of the country's predicament was being criticised by leading human rights campaigners Avaaz.
"Claims that calm has been restored and life is back to normal in Bahrain are completely untrue," campaign director Alex Wilks insisted, "In the last week, the police have continued to .... break up peaceful marches, killing and injuring dozens of people.