Damon Hill appears to have changed his stance on the Bahrain Grand Prix's continued presence on the F1 schedule, but admits that this weekend's controversial fourth round raises a number of questions about the sport's morals.
The 1996 world champion, who does not appear to be in Bahrain in his role as part of the Sky Sports F1
commentary team, has twice before expressed a view on whether the sport should grace the Gulf nation. Back in January 2012
, the former BRDC chairman said that he was 'in favour of the return of the Bahrain Grand Prix', despite the fact that civil unrest continued as the result of pro-democracy campaigns. Then, earlier this month
, he appeared to have a change of heart, urging the FIA to reconsider the race's place on the schedule amid reports of escalated disturbances.
On the very eve of the race, however, Hill appears to have settled on an opinion, suggesting that it is right for the race to go ahead, but that F1 needs to examine its motives for courting controversy. Writing in a personal blog for Britain's Guardian
newspaper, the former Brabham, Williams, Arrows and Jordan pilot rumbled through thoughts on various issues affecting the sport, before ultimately questioning whether the Bahrain question had been handled properly.
"F1 is not everyone's idea of a Sunday well spent," he began, "I'm sure there are those who would love to escape from F1 forever. But, because it is a global sport with 350 million viewers for 20 of the 52 weekends of the year, it is difficult to ignore.
"This is especially so when it becomes involved in moral issues that affect us all, such as a death of one of the participants or spectators, deliberate cheating, consuming the earth's resources at a prodigious rate, promoting smoking or banking, spending taxpayers' money, instructing a driver to crash, or being apparently deaf, blind and dumb to human rights abuses. F1 provides ample ammunition to be labelled 'the bad boy' of world sport.
"But no one in the sport is pretending that F1 is the moral standard bearer for mankind. In fact, it caters for the little hedonist in all of us. It blows $1.4bn (£870m) every year on making a spectacular show. Some like it; some don't. That's freedom for you. On balance, most people let it get on with things and ignore its eccentricities. Every now and then, however, the sport is hauled up by public opinion and put on trial.
"F1 does not, cannot, and has never existed in total isolation from the general concerns of humanity. In this sense, the sport is always on the edge of politics. The moment something becomes an issue for all of us, it is a political issue. So the question is this; is the Bahrain Grand Prix now an issue for all of us? Or is it more accurate to ask; are Bahraini politics an issue for all of us?"
Among the 'critical' questions that Hill suggested the FIA needed to ask surrounding the Bahrain issue were those regarding 'security, politicisation and the reputation of its blue riband [category]'. While admitting that the promise of security had been 'satisfactory' despite the obvious risk involved with going to a politically unstable country, he could not come down decisively in the argument of whether the sport had been drawn into the politics of the situation.
"It is not clear," he wrote, "A problem in the lead-up to this event was the apparent collusion of F1 with the promoters in promulgating the view that Bahrain only had a small issue with a few unruly youths. This I regarded as a very clear case of understatement. It was the view of Bahrain that Bahrain would like the world to buy. And it was going to use F1 to help it. This was the point at which I expressed my concerns about this situation.