F1 needs to set out exactly where it stands on the situation in Bahrain or continue to find itself viewed as a supporter of the current regime, according to former world champion Damon Hill.
Speaking before the resumption of the 2013 championship campaign in China – and a week before F1 heads back to Sakhir – Hill told reporters that the sport needs to publically distance itself from the government, despite its support for the grand prix, in an effort to avoid becoming seen as a political pawn, and a focus for pro-democracy protestors that see the event as a status symbol of their 'oppressors'
F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has already claimed that he hasn't had 'any negative reports from anybody there' and suggested that if the protestors 'had any brains they'd just get on with their talks' [ see separate story
], but Hill insists that he still has concerns about F1's presence in the Gulf state.
"The question really is whether or not F1 going to Bahrain is actually going to be ... furthering brutal repression of people by being an endorsement of the way in which repression has been meted out," the driveer-turned-pundit was quoted by Reuters
, "[Last year] I took the view that the sport and the governing body of the sport should be ensuring that they are not hijacked for the wrong reasons, and I'm not entirely sure that they've cleared that point, to be honest."
Although last year's grand prix went ahead amid similar claims from Ecclestone, coverage was interspersed with reports of skirmishes between protestors and government forces. The 2011 grand prix was cancelled following the initial crackdown on an 'Arab Spring' uprising as the activists attempted to bring down the ruling party.
Hill also felt that FIA president Jean Todt, already infamous for failing to take a public stance on anything, was wrong not to set out the sport's position.
"That is a mistake because he is being political because he's being used, or sport is perceived as being used, by its engagement in the economy and the reputation of the country," the Briton explained, “[Todt] has not said anything that has distanced the sport from things it would find distasteful and upsetting, which I believe everybody in the sport would actually like to do.
"I think the vast majority of the people in F1 would like to say 'we don't want to come here to make things worse for people, we would like you to enjoy F1, we think F1's got lots of positive things to offer, but please don't on our behalf round people up and brutalise them'. I don't see that being political. That's more ethical than political."