Why I’m Supporting a Boycott of the Bahrain Grand Prix

’ve loved Grand Prix racing ever since I can remember. For me, theres nothing like it. Yes, it has occasionally been a predicatable procession of cars, but the on-track battles can be epic.

Senna Vs Prost. Mansell Vs Senna Vs Prost. Hill Vs Schumacher. Schumacher Vs Villeneuve. Alonso Vs Räikkönen. Hamilton Vs Massa. Button Vs Vettel Vs Hamilton Vs Nicole Scherzinger. All titanic battles of skill, and human will to win.

And it’s not just the drivers. Ross Brawn’s career across multiple teams shows his leadership qualities. Likewise, Adrian Newey is an undeniable genius of exactly the kind this country should be creating more of.

In the last few years, Formula 1 has been edge-of-the-seat exciting. Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton have been great Champions, ambassadors for the sport, and for the UK, and living proof that given the right personalities, two Champions can co-exist in the same team without either having to begrudge the other success, or play second fiddle to the other’s main part.

But this weekend I’ll not be watching the Bahrain Grand Prix. I’ll be purposefully avoiding it.

Human Rights Watch points out that holding the Bahrain Grand Prix ignores ongoing concerns about human rights abuses committed by the State of Bahrain.

Tim Farron, President of the Liberal Democrats, summed my feelings nicely yesterday when he appeared on Question Time:

… the very fact that the FIA are taking the Formula 1 race there endorses and legitimises that regime…

Tim mentioned that he had been involved in the anti-appartheid boycotts that were of a sporting and cultural nature and which helped to topple a regime based upon racism, and that experience informs his attitude towards the Bahraini Grand Prix, and I couldn’t agree with his sentiment more.

There are those who are citing probable ‘contractual obligations’ as to why the teams cannot pull out of the Grand Prix. I do not countenance such thoughts.

Setting aside the money-grubbing commercial power that Bernie Ecclestone exercises over Grand Prix – even in the face of petrol bombings he is happy for it to go ahead – there is precedent for the teams themselves to respectfully pull out of the Grand Prix.

Many Grand Prix fans will recall the unprecedented events of the 2005 United States Grand Prix.

A combination of FIA rule changes and a resurfacing of the race track had apparently conspired against tyre supplier Michelin, and they advised the teams whom they were supplying that Michelin tyres would not last the whole race. The majority of teams pulled out of the race after completing the ‘formation lap’ immediately prior to the official start of the race.

That was the last time I’d stopped watching a Formula 1 race in disgust.

The teams appeared to decide not to race at the very last moment, when the crowd were sitting in the stands expecting a race. But the decision not to race was ultimately taken at an individual level by the teams and based upon concerns for the safety of the drivers, teams, and spectators.

The details of the Bahraini Grand Prix are clearly different, but the principle of ‘safety first’ remains the same. Safety for everyone who is likely to be caught up in the events that unfold at a Grand Prix.

In 2005, the teams were given fair warning that something might go wrong during the race. It’s not a leap of imagination to think that there may be a protest of some sort against this race, and not just a man running onto the track either.

Bernie Ecclestone is taking a huge risk by not calling off this Grand Prix. I only hope that willingness to turn a blind eye to human rights abuse in order to appease commercial sponsors and a state which oppresses non-violent calls for democracy does not result in something far worse than a few punctured tyres and bruised egos.

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