F1 teams leave Bahrain Grand Prix decision to FIA


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The Independent Online

The paddock in Shanghai will this weekend form the meeting place for one of the most crucial discussions in Formula One history.

Around the table will be FIA president Jean Todt, F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone and the team principals from all 12 marques.

At stake is not only next weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix, but the remainder of a contract that is due to expire after 2016.

And the question that will dominate the debate is whether a race should be held at the Sakhir International Circuit on April 22.

The main point is not about morals, the rights and wrongs of the political situation in Bahrain otherwise it can be argued as to why F1 visits China, this weekend's hosts, given that country's human rights record.

Instead, the key topic on the agenda will focus on safety, and whether the 600-strong personnel across the teams can be assured no harm will befall them.

For their part, the Bahrainis have made it abundantly clear all is well within the Gulf kingdom.

They insist the sporadic protests, that continue to blight the island following last year's 'Day of Rage' anti-government demonstrations when many were killed, are confined to villages away from the capital Manama.

But, as was proven at the weekend with the University Boat Race, all it takes is one person with an axe to grind to throw an event into chaos.

Now imagine if that one person in Bahrain decided to detonate a home-made bomb amongst the F1 fraternity, as occurred on Monday in the Shi'ite village of Eker, which injured seven policemen, three seriously.

With daily running battles occurring between protesters and police, who have been forced to counter their attackers with water cannon, rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades, no wonder the teams are concerned for the safety of their staff.

The problem is not one team principal will voice aloud such concerns, so instead the Formula One Teams' Association today made it clear any decision regarding the race lies with the FIA and Todt.

Insisting the teams do not have a say with regard to the race, the FOTA statement read: "There's been some media speculation recently to the effect the teams may seek to cancel this year's Bahrain Grand Prix.

"That wouldn't be possible. Teams are unable to cancel grands prix.

"We race in an international series called the FIA Formula One World Championship, and it is therefore for the FIA to offer the teams guidance on these issues."

Todt faces a difficult decision because if the race is cancelled this year regulations state any grand prix called off for two consecutive years will lose its place on the calendar, unless good reason can be shown for its reinstatement.

As the race is one of the most lucrative in F1, worth directly more than £150million to the local economy and a further £300million indirectly, the financial reasons are obvious.

Todt, however, has to weigh that up against the cost of just one attack on anybody within F1, in particular as extremist protest groups have made it clear they will target the event.