The likelihood that Formula One will reverse its decision to reinstate this season's Bahrain Grand Prix is growing after another day in which the sport was subjected to some scathing public criticism.
There was almost universal condemnation for the extraordinary performance of Jean Todt, the president of the FIA governing body, who insisted the situation in Bahrain is currently stable and peaceful – an opinion that appeared to be based solely on a simplistic report compiled by an FIA Commissioner after a two-day visit organised and supervised by government officials.
The former FIA president Max Mosley led the ridicule. "The gentleman [the FIA] sent [was] a very, very nice man called [Carlos] Gracia who speaks no English and as far as I know, speaks no Arabic," Mosley said.
"He was then taken around by representatives of the government and had no knowledge of what was really going on, and above all he didn't ask to see the people whom a human-rights lawyer would like to see."
Throughout the day Avaaz, the New York-based organisation which uses the internet to harness support for human- rights campaigns all over the world, enjoyed a huge surge in backing for its call to the teams to refuse to travel to the Gulf state. By mid-afternoon some 440,000 people had signed an online petition asking the teams to make a public declaration that they would not race.
Amnesty International also listed a series of human-rights violations linked to the civil unrest which it said were continuing in Bahrain, including arrests, trials, death sentences, job dismissals and abuse by the security services.
Many fans contacted the BBC to express anger and in some cases disgust. An official spokesperson for the broadcaster confirmed it was planning to cover the race as normal on its new 30 October date, saying: "As the race [was] officially sanctioned by the FIA we would expect to cover the event as part of our contractual obligations. However, we are in regular communication with the FIA and will be monitoring the situation closely."
While the teams have still to make a direct response to the Avaaz petition, and are unlikely to do so, the sport is clearly exploring ways of avoiding going to Bahrain without explicitly linking the withdrawal to the issue of human rights.
The Formula One Teams Association (Fota) yesterday wrote privately to the FIA, Bernie Ecclestone's Formula One Management and the Bahrain GP organisers, making clear its members did not want to race there on 30 October and asking that the new India GP be returned to that date, which it originally held in the calendar.
In its letter Fota, which represents all the teams on the grid with the exception of Hispania, indicated it was willing to discuss a future date when the race could be rescheduled. However, Mosley pointed out that under FIA regulations, changes in the calendar of races require the written agreement of every team.
"I don't believe that is going to be forthcoming," Mosley said. "I will be astonished if the event goes ahead. I don't think it will happen."
Earlier in the day Ecclestone himself indicated that the race, which was originally scheduled as the season-opener in March, should now be moved to 4 December "and if things are safe and well, then that is fine, we can go..."
What amount to delaying tactics have already been condemned by Mark Webber, so far the only driver on the grid prepared to voice an opinion.
"The sport should have taken a much firmer stance earlier this year rather than constantly delaying its decision in hope of being able to reschedule it in 2011," wrote the Australian on his personal website after news of the race's reinstatement first emerged.
"It would have sent a very clear message about F1's position on something as fundamental as human rights and how it deals with moral issues. Like it or not, F1 and sport in general isn't above having a social responsibility and conscience. I hope F1 is able to return to Bahrain eventually but now isn't the right time."
It has not helped Todt's credibility that his son Nicolas's ART Grand Prix team – which explored the possibility of entering Formula One for the 2011 season before ultimately failing to secure sufficient backing – is 30 per cent funded by the Crown Prince of Bahrain.
Sheikh Mohammed Bin Essa Al-Khalifa, the head of the Bahrain Economic Development Board, continued to insist that staging the race would help unite the country.
Sheikh Mohammed said: "There is a long way between now and then [30 October] and we're confident that by the time the race comes around we'll have addressed a lot of the issues.
"The grand prix is a uniting force and that is the view of the majority of people in Bahrain, including the opposition."
But the former world champion Damon Hill, who yesterday announced he was stepping down as president of the British Racing Drivers Club, which owns Silverstone, said F1 had missed a chance to voice its concerns over the ongoing situation in Bahrain.
Last night Ecclestone appeared to reassert his support for the race going ahead. He told ITV News: "Oh let's see if there's peace and quiet [in Bahrain]. We are happy to be there. Delighted."Reuse content