The beleaguered FIA president, Max Mosley, faced further punishment yesterday. Though Lewis Hamilton's practice crash here briefly put the focus back on the track, the sport soon reverted to examination of its conscience, and the desirability of Mosley continuing in his role.
In what seemed like a parody of the Eurovision Song Contest, the 'votes' have been coming in from the various FIA-member car clubs, and the Dutch motorsport federation gave him a 'nul points' rating in the most strongly worded condemnation yet of the alleged Nazi-themed sexual activities revealed by a Sunday newspaper.
While Germany's ADAC had earlier called for Mosley to "reconsider" his position, KNAF of the Netherlands went for the jugular and called for him to resign. Their president, Arie Ruitenbeek, said: "Because of his high-profile position, this can't be accepted. I have not received my invitation yet [to a scheduled FIA extraordinary general meeting to discuss the matter] but we will go and will vote for him to resign."
ADAC, the German company which is Europe's largest automobile club with 10 million members, revealed that it had sent a letter to Mosley which said: "The role of an FIA president who represents more than 100 million motorists worldwide should not be burdened by such an affair. Therefore, we ask the president to very carefully reconsider his role within the organisation."
Further condemnation came from the Israeli automobile club (MEMSI). Their president, Yitzhak Milstein, said: "The facts, as published, are shocking. It is especially surprising for us in view of the fact that our contacts with Mr Mosley along the years have always been proper and correct, and never gave an indication of what the recent story may reflect.
"Once the whole thing is clarified – and there is a better idea on how true the story is – we will make our conclusions known. And they will certainly match the severity of the matter."
None of Britain's three member associations, the MSA (Motor Sports Association), the RAC (Royal Automobile Club) and the AA (Automobile Association), has yet been drawn into the debate, but the Caravan Club, which does not expect to have a vote, said: "Immaterial of the current situation, we feel it is time for Max Mosley to step down and have done for some time."
Formula One powerbroker Bernie Ecclestone, a close ally of Mosley's, said: "This is an FIA thing, this is nothing to do with anyone else. It doesn't affect us in any shape or form. It's not what I think, it's what other people think. I'm happy with Max, I don't have any problems at all. Max will know what he needs to do. He is the president of the FIA, he is the one who will decide what goes on in the FIA – not me."
Meanwhile, the drivers are expected to make a statement soon, pending a meeting of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association this evening. Feelings in some quarters there are known to be running high. A statement from America's AAA, the FIA's largest club with more than 53 million members, is still awaited.
Against this highly charged background, the crash which damaged Hamilton's McLaren in the closing minutes of the afternoon practice session served as a reminder that physical risk is still a significant factor in a sport that some might be tempted to believe is only about politics these days. It came when he put a wheel on to a slippery kerb and the car got away from him and slid into a steel barrier.
"It was a shame that I ended what had been a productive day going off the circuit and hitting the barriers at Turn Seven," he said sheepishly after ending the session fourth fastest. "I was just pushing and sometimes these things happen. I am absolutely fine, and hopefully the damage to the car is not too bad.
"We would have had to change our engine and gearbox anyway so hopefully I am not going to be too unpopular with the boys in the garage. In the first session we stayed on the same set of tyres throughout. I flat-spotted one of them early on but, as it was only practice one, we chose to save a set of tyres, however we monitored the vibrations closely to make sure that they didn't cause any damage to the car. The circuit was obviously very dirty and continued to evolve throughout both sessions."
McLaren chief Ron Dennis said he was not concerned that Felipe Massa went a lot faster for Ferrari, on what was obviously a low-fuel run, since neither Hamilton nor his team-mate Heikki Kovalainen, who was third fastest behind Massa and Kimi Raikkonen in the other Ferrari, ran with light fuel loads.
"Apart from Lewis' off towards the end of the second session, it was a good start to our Bahrain Grand Prix weekend," said Dennis. "The track continued to improve throughout both sessions and we gathered a lot of data. As Bahrain is one of the most demanding circuits on brakes we monitored and evaluated our brake performance throughout. We experienced no problems and look forward to the rest of the weekend." Whether the same can be said for Mosley remains to be seen.
Bahrain Grand Prix Practice times: First Session: 1 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 1min 32.233sec; 2 K Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 1:32.350; 3 N Rosberg (Ger) Williams-Toyota 1:32.415; 4 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren-Mercedes 1:32.705; 5 H Kovalainen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes 1:32.868; 6 K Nakajima (Japan) Williams-Toyota 1:33.121; 7 R Kubica (Pol) BMW-Sauber 1:33.333; 8 J Trulli (It) Toyota 1:33.539; 9 D Coulthard (GB) RedBull-Renault 1:33.788; 10 F Alonso (Sp) Renault 1:33.815; 11 T Glock (Ger) Toyota 1:33.929; 12 M Webber (Aus) RedBull_Renault 1:33.950; 13 N Piquet Jnr (Br) Renault 1:33.981; 14 N Heidfeld (Ger) BMW-Sauber 1:34.106; 15 S Bourdais (Fr) Toro Rosso 1:34.235; 16 S Vettel (Ger) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:34.321; 17 G Fisichella (It) Force India-Ferrari 1:34.892; 18 J Button (GB) Honda 1:34.915; 19 R Barrichello (Br) Honda 1:35.174; 20 A Sutil (Ger) Force India-Ferrari 1:35.429; 21 A Davidson (GB) Super Aguri-Honda 1:36.145; 22 T Sato (Japan) Super Aguri-Honda 1:36.536. Second Session: 1 Massa 1min 31.420sec; 2 Raikkonen 1:32.327; 3 Kovalainen 1:32.752 30; 4 Hamilton 1:32.847 26; 5 Kubica 1:32.915 29; 6 Rosberg 1:33.022 34; 7 Coulthard 1:33.048 27; 8 Nakajima 1:33.098 33; 9 Bourdais 1:33.197; 10 Piquet Jr. 1:33.247; 11 Button 1:33.710; 12 Alonso 1:33.755; 13 Webber 1:33.782; 14 Trulli 1:33.822; 15 Glock 1:33.856; 16 Barrichello 1:33.966; 17 Heidfeld 1:34.023; 18 Fisichella 1:34.388; 19 Sutil 1:34.405; 20 Vettel 1:34.787; 21 Sato 1:35.288; 22 Davidson 1:35.712.