Formula One teams put pressure on FIA over Bahrain decision

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The Independent Online

The Formula One Teams' Association have called on the FIA and F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone to reverse their decision on the Bahrain Grand Prix.

FOTA are looking for the inaugural Indian Grand Prix to revert back to its original October 30 date, while at the same time leaving the door ajar for a potential race in Bahrain in early December.

At a meeting on Friday of the World Motor Sport Council, the 26-man committee voted for Bahrain to be reinstalled on the F1 calendar in the wake of its postponement in February.

Pro-democracy demonstrations that swept the Gulf kingdom resulted in the deaths of 30 protesters and hundreds more detained.

However, a fact-finding mission last week by one of the FIA vice- presidents, Carlos Gracia, led to him concluding it was now safe for the grand prix to go ahead.

Gracia's information, however, flew in the face of reports from a number of human rights groups who claim abuse is still continuing.

The decision that saw Bahrain handed India's October 30 slot, with the latter switched to the second weekend in December, infuriated the teams.

A number of meetings, both internally and within FOTA - an umbrella organisation that includes 11 of the marques with the exception of Hispania Racing - have since taken place.

As a result, a FOTA spokesperson told Press Association Sport: "The teams have discussed the 2011 calendar within FOTA.

"They have expressed their views privately in a letter to the FIA, FOM (Formula One Management) and the Bahrain International Circuit."

Although no details were forthcoming on the letter, it is believed the key point is that India be restored to October 30.

Despite initial protests from the teams that the season not end in December, a proposal deemed "totally unacceptable" by Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn, it is understood they are willing to monitor the situation in Bahrain and accommodate it in December if necessary.

Such an idea was aired today by Ecclestone, who has been stunned by the backlash following the WMSC's decision in Barcelona on Friday.

"The way things are at the moment, we have no idea what is going to happen," Ecclestone told The Times.

"Better we move Bahrain to the end of the season and, if things are safe and well, then that is fine, we can go. If they are not, then we don't go and there are no problems.

"We listened to that report from the FIA and that was saying there were no problems at all in Bahrain.

"But that is not what I am hearing and I think we can see that we need to be careful.

"The issue is whether it is safe and good to have a race. We can change this October 30 date by having a vote by fax if necessary.

"It can be done, and fast."

Any amendment to the calendar, however, needs the approval of all 12 teams, which means Hispania have to align themselves with FOTA if changes are to be made.

Embarrassingly for Todt, former FIA president Max Mosley reminded the Frenchman that unanimous agreement, under the regulations for the International Sporting Code, is required from all the teams for any changes to take effect.

Mosley, however, strongly believes the race will not take place at all this year.

Speaking on Radio 4's Today programme, Mosley said: "I don't think there's the slightest chance the grand prix will actually happen.

"Apart from anything else you cannot change the calendar, in the way it has been proposed, without the unanimous agreement of the teams.

"The Council organises the event, but if there is going to be a change, for example moving the Indian event, there has to be unanimous agreement. It's absolutely part of the rules.

"So until written agreement of the teams is forthcoming, you can't actually change the date. It can't be done."

Mosley believes the rulers of Bahrain would use the grand prix "to further its aims", and "to try and give the impression that all is well in the country, when it's very far from the truth."

Mosley added: "So it almost becomes an instrument of the regime in oppressing the people who are being badly treated.

"That's when I think it goes beyond what you can accept as a sporting body."

Human Rights Watch, who last week issued a statement urging the FIA not to reinstate Bahrain, are hopeful a rethink will result in a positive outcome.

Speaking to Press Association Sport, Joe Stork, the deputy director of the Middle East division, said: "Martial law was lifted on June 1, but that's had no effect in terms of how things are proceeding.

"The special military courts are still in operation, with the trial beginning yesterday of 47 doctors and nurses who allege they were tortured in order to illicit confessions relating to various crimes and misdemeanours.

"So all the problems we raised in our letter to the Federation and FOTA teams are very much alive, I'm afraid to say.

"But we've raised the issue, as have other human rights groups, and I'm heartened by the fact some of the team leaders and drivers have raised these concerns.

"So although we were disappointed by the initial decision, it seems as if the story is not over yet. Let's hope that's the case."

Foreign secretary William Hague, meanwhile, has insisted the FIA "must take responsibility for its own decisions".

Hague was today taking questions in Commons exchanges relating to the Government's position on Bahrain and whether any discussions had taken place with the FIA.

In response, Hague said: "If such an event is to take place at all then it should be a focus for improvements in Bahrain and be an incentive for all in Bahrain to work together on a national dialogue.

"But they (the FIA) must make their own decisions."