Bahrain Grand Prix organisers insist that they made the right decision when it came to staging last weekend's race, despite the controversy it caused, both in F1 and wider circles.
The event, which was cancelled in 2011 as the Arab Spring uprising swept through the Middle East and caused unrest – and bloody clashes – in Bahrain, raised a few eyebrows when it was included on the 2012 schedule and, amid much conjecture over the ethical and safety aspects of returning, was only formally confirmed by the FIA a week before it was due to take place.
While certain sections of the world's media leapt on the protests that accompanied F1's visit, reporting that there was widespread bloodshed and that the sport should be ashamed of itself, those actually on the ground in Bahrain insisted that, while there were flashpoints, they were few and far between, and that the majority of the population were going about the lives in a normal fashion.
As a result, Bahrain International Circuit
chairman Zayed Alzayani believes that those behind the race made the right decision to keep it on the schedule and not bow to pressure to cancel for a second year running, hoping that the media coverage of the demonstrations will 'act as a catalyst to the process of resolving Bahrain's political problems'.
“I think [cancelling] it would have caused more problems,” he was quoted as telling Autosport
, “It would have heightened tension between the government and the opposition, and it would have been a focal point for finger pointing. There would have been a blame game. I am glad it happened and I am glad it went well.
“Hopefully, by next year, we will have sorted out whatever differences there were. Maybe the solution takes a long time, and maybe it is a painful solution, but, if we have to go through the pain to get the gains, then it is worth it.”
F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone is adamant that Bahrain can have a grand prix for as long as it wants one, even though not everything about the weekend was to his liking. In particular, the 82-year old was annoyed to see the 'F1' trademark incorporated into event publicity as part of the 'UniF1ed' slogan under which the race ran.
“We never put it there,” Ecclestone told Britain's Daily Mirror
, “We told them to take it down, not to use it.”
Despite his frustration, however, Ecclestone was quick to recognise that F1's global platform had played a bigger role in the protests than any billboard using its likeness.
“Before they started using that slogan there was trouble about F1,” he noted, “People make excuses, but there are only two sports where politics come into it - us and the Olympics, because the profile is big enough.
“There was a big golf match in Bahrain before F1 arrived and there was no problem there. If F1 wasn't there, do you think any journalists would have gone there to report [the general situation]?”