There is much to admire in Formula One motor racing. The skill and courage of the drivers and the ingenuity of designers, technicians and mechanics make for a thrilling spectacle. But be it a sport or an industry, F1 is definitely above politics.
The running of the Bahrain F1 Grand Prix is scheduled to take place as a crowd of up to a hundred thousand locals take to the streets to protest against the rule of a wealthy minority empowered by an accident of birth and maintained by the brutal use of force. The ruling royal family ordered the use of stun grenades and tear gas against their fellow Bahrainis as the F1 road show rolled into town.
With the eyes of the world on the oil rich island state, the action of the ruling elite should be viewed as moderate. Previously, the Al Khalifa family were happy to fire live rounds into protesters and then torture and imprison doctors and nurses who defied their rule by treating the wounded. But remember, F1 is a sport and is therefore above politics.
In such circumstances, it might seem reasonable to cancel the motor race, not least due to concerns over the safety of the drivers, the crews, the journalists and the leggy beauties flown in specially to form a guard of honour for the victorious gladiators. We can, of course, ignore concerns for the safety of the people of Bahrain struggling to remove an oppressive dictatorship because that is an internal matter and nothing to do with sport. We can also ignore the plight of human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaia, unjustly sentenced to life imprisonment by a military tribunal and close to death after a 70 day hunger strike. What is important is the tyre, fuel and pit stop strategy of McLaren-Mercedes, Red Bull Renault and Ferrari.
The British Prime Minister says that any decision to cancel the race can only be taken by the sport`s governing body which, in this case, is the rather strange shape of a certain Bernie Ecclestone. Cameron is happy to continue selling King Hamad small arms, heavy weaponry and other ordinance designed to quell civil unrest because it is good for Britain`s balance of payments. As for Bernie, who managed to get around legislation banning tobacco advertising by bunging some dosh to Gordon Brown`s Labour government, people being tortured and shot is “nothing to do with me”.
Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa stepped up to the microphone with a confused looking Bernie at his side and said that a cancellation of the race would “just empower extremists” and claimed that the very presence of Jason Button and Lewis Hamilton would be a “force for good”. This would suggest that handsome millionaires racing expensive machines around a track will encourage democracy and freedom in a subjugated state. If that is the case, David Cameron should consider opening go-kart tracks in the inner cities of Britain in an attempt to avoid his inevitable collapse. Deranged greens and local residents will, of course, be judged as armed gangs of terrorists thereby justifying the deployment of heavy armour to protect the neighbourhood Tesco store.
Petrol head motoring journalists are howling with indignation at the thought of cancelling the procession of 200mph advertising hoardings. F1, after all, is a sport and has nothing to do with politics and has everything to do with money. They argue that the bleeding heart liberal cyclists so keen on defending human rights did not object to the Chinese Grand Prix so that makes Bahrain okay.
They also argue that the loss of sponsors exposure and the outrageous denial of broadcast rights will impact the global economy and the personal fortune of Bernie Ecclestone and the Al Khalifa family. In desperation, some of these wannabe boy racer journalists compensating for something missing in the trouser department are suggesting that the race must take place because if the cameras go away, the ruling family of Bahrain will instigate a blood bath by way of vengeance for lost income. F1 is a sport and so is above politics.
Motor racing is undoubtedly very exciting. The harmony between man and machine at the limits of durability, performance and stress tolerances make for compelling viewing. As the sportsmen duel to be first to open the champagne in a part of the world that does not allow women to drive because some men claim that it said so in a book written 1400 years ago, we can only marvel at the bravery of the drivers as they race for the line.
If we are honest, we watch F1 because we want to see cars crashing and secretly hope for an almighty pile up at turn one. We become annoyed at the safety car and hope for torrential downpours to sort out the men from the boys. We want the man with the front jack in the pit lane to be taken out by the shin with the front wing. We would love to see a wheel fall off after a pneumatic nut gun failed and we would enjoy witnessing the fuel guy getting his hose stuck. Powered by testosterone, F1 is a little bit like government. Authority can be legally elected, assumed or just taken.
In Bahrain, or in Britain, or in so many other places, we can hardly wait to see the crash.