Sir Jackie Stewart has said he feels the Bahrain Grand Prix should go ahead as planned next weekend despite ongoing calls for the race to be canned.
Pressure is building ahead of the fourth round of the season following more unrest in the Gulf State, which culminated in a bomb attack at the weekend that left a number of policemen injured.
F1 commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone has said he can't force teams to travel to Bahrain if they don't want to [See separate story HERE
], although he also told the BBC
in a separate interview that an un-named F1 team had sent someone over to Bahrain who had said that 'everything's perfect, there's no problem'.
Speaking to Al Jazeera English
, former champion Stewart said cancelling the Bahrain race for the second year in a row would send out a 'bad message to the rest of the world' and expressed his feeling that it should take place as planned.
“I think that it should go ahead because I think it has far bigger ramifications, not only for Bahrain, not only for the region of the Middle East but also on a global basis,” he said, “because I think there is a very good reason that natural democracies are required. The Middle East as a region will be changing to democracies more than they have ever in the future, but I don't think democracies can be achieved in one month, twelve months or even one or two years.
“It takes time to change a democracy and to be able to bring that democracy into a level which is acceptable for all concerned and we've seen that in many other countries so therefore I believe the Grand Prix should take place because if this Grand Prix doesn't take place, it's an extraordinarily bad message for the rest of the world. There's going to be a winter Olympics for example in Russia coming up and there will be a Grand Prix in Russia in 2014. Does that mean that because there's a human rights issue in Russia that some people will demonstrate and therefore suggest that there should be no Grand Prix in Russia or no Winter Olympics in Russia?”
Stewart did however concede that there are security issues to take into consideration but said that problems could be avoided if the right precautions are taken.
“I do think that security is a major issue, particularly in a Formula 1 race, but if somebody does a demonstration in such a way that it disturbs a major sporting event, I think that's a serious fraud,” he said. “I think that if these were peaceful demonstrations, it would be much more powerful for those who need to have that change and want to have that change to have the world see them as responsible people not irresponsible people. I mean, the man stopped the boat race at the weekend in the UK got a lot of attention but he hasn't been taken seriously for any of his causes, because he did it in an irresponsible fashion. So I think it would be more important.
“Keep in mind that the economy of Bahrain is going to be hit giantly by having no Grand Prix. The Grand Prix figures are between 300 and 400 million a year. That would be lost to the Bahraini society. That means taxi drivers, that means waiters or waitresses and restaurants and hotels, airlines. So it's a big economic issue. I believe that if the right precautions are taken and the right frame of mind is taken by those who want to change to democracy, they'll get more respect by doing that than having major sporting events cancelled.“