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Although Bernie Ecclestone claims that this year’s Bahrain Grand Prix will be going ahead without problems, a number of F1 insiders are beginning to voice their doubts over the Sakhir event. As protests continue, albeit not to the extent of in early 2011, 1996 World Champion Damon Hill wonders whether a delay is wise.
The season-opening Grand Prix of last year was called off following Bahrain’s ‘Day of Rage’ on 14 February, plus the subsequent protests in which multiple lives were lost. After a protester was killed just 20 kilometres south of the circuit last week, with other demonstrations also ongoing, worries are creeping in for some.
“Things are different now,” Hill, former BRDC President and now a television pundit for Sky Sports, told The Telegraph. “The protests have not abated and may even have become more determined and calculated. It is a worrying state of affairs. What we must put above all else is what will be the penalty, in terms of human cost, if the race goes ahead.”
In the second half of last year, Hill travelled to the Gulf kingdom with FIA President Jean Todt in order to assess the situation; after his trip optimism levels were high but now, with just over a fortnight to go until the race, the Englishman is more anxious.
“It would be a bad state of affairs, and bad for Formula 1, to be seen to be enforcing martial law in order to hold the race,” Hill continues. “That is not what this sport should be about. Looking at it today, you’d have to say that it could be creating more problems than it’s solving…conditions do not seem to have improved, judging by the reports in our European newspapers, social media and on Al Jazeera TV.
“I’m just saying we have to tread carefully. I hope the FIA are considering the implications of this fully and that events in Bahrain are not seen as they are often sold, as a bunch of yobs throwing Molotov cocktails, because that’s a gross simplification. If they believe that, they ought be more wary. You don’t get 100,000 people risking their lives in protest for nothing.
“If we go, we all go. But there is obviously still a great deal of pain, anger and tension in Bahrain. It would be better for F1 to make it clear that it properly understands this and that it wants only the best for all Bahrain, or whatever country it visits. I think F1 is sailing very close to this limit. But there is an even more troubling thought, which is this: is F1 playing brinkmanship for purely financial reasons while people are putting their lives in peril to protest against this event?”
The race is scheduled to take place on the weekend of 20-22 April, running back-to-back with the Chinese Grand Prix which continues the season next weekend.
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