Michael Bailey , Formula One correspondent
Thursday, April 26, 2012
Where do you start picking up the pieces from what many involved in the sport have called its toughest weekend?
"I can only say that if, instead of such a wide run-off there had been a wall, I’m not sure I’d be here to talk about it"
Firstly, it was of course good news there were no major injuries or worse inside the track. No lethal protests or casualties, no major recriminations for F1 and GP2 personnel.
The same cannot be said of outside the track and in the rest of Bahrain, where Formula One’s presence provided a focal point to re-ignite the displeasure of some citizens.
One activist was found dead on Friday, while Channel Four’s journalists tasked with reporting on the civil unrest were arrested and deported from the country. Their Bahraini driver was released, having reportedly been assaulted by police during the arrest.
There were numerous reported protests over the weekend, while the F1 website also came under attack. Two of Force India’s travelling party returned home early after a brush with a Molotov cocktail, while the team effectively cancelled its second free-practice session on Friday to ensure they made the journey back to their hotel during daylight hours.
• GW – Red Bull: Talk about slipping under the radar. One good weekend and the defending champions are top of both championships, all thanks to plugging a hole in the RB8.
• BW – Nico Rosberg: So what did becoming a grand prix winner do to the German? Apparently it turned him into his team-mate, as he ran his rivals off the track one manoeuvre at a time.
If you are cynical, you might suggest Force India paid for their stance by becoming invisible to F1’s world television coverage feed during qualifying.
Clearly the paddock was tense for most of the weekend, and Lotus team principal Eric Boullier revealed his thoughts on why: “I should not say it, but the media did not do for me what they should have done…we don’t need to bring what is going on outside in (to the paddock), and that is what the media did. They brought the external politics inside and that is not good.”
Maybe. But given the grand prix’s slogan this year was, “UniF1ed: A nation in celebration”, to blame the media seems a little ignorant.
Sadly, the theme continued across F1’s hierarchy. Be it FIA president Jean Todt suggesting, “I am not sure the protests would not have happened if the grand prix would not have happened”, or Bernie Ecclestone’s distasteful declaration to Reuters.
“I think it’s good because people talk about things, you know. You know what they say – there is no such thing as bad publicity,” he said.
BBC and German viewing figures were said to have increased at the weekend compared to earlier races, so that will please Bernie.
But no doubt most will have been watching while at the same time questioning the sport’s moral compass – or at least finding the weekend’s events off the track unpalatable.
My colleague Kate Scotter managed to grab a word with BBC F1 presenter Jake Humphrey yesterday, who has just come back from Bahrain. His thoughts add to the debate.
“It’s really important to keep sport and politics separate but the issue in this instance is that the Bahrain royal family are so heavily involved in Formula One that it’s difficult to separate the two.
“On reflection, I think Formula One shone a light on the issues in Bahrain and gave the whole world an idea of what is going on there. If that is what the protestors wanted then Formula One served to do that for them.”
• Even as a Formula One fan, it’s rare I find myself shouting ‘come on’ at the television screen.
But it happened on Sunday, with ‘Kimi’ the magic missing word on the end.
Räikkönen’s pursuit of Sebastian Vettel on Sunday at one point seemed destined to end only in a Lotus lead – and arguably memorable victory.
That didn’t happen – partly because Lotus were struck with a bought of the ‘Saubers’. Running second and third with Kimi and Romain Grosjean (inset), they opted to take what they had rather than push the Finn on what would have been an aggressive tyre strategy. Once again, a team outside Formula One’s big hitters – Lotus’ words, not mine – decided against really pushing for victory.
In some ways you cannot blame them. Lotus sit third in the constructors’ championship and may well earn another shot at a race win before the season is out.
But it’s still a disappointment for fans – especially when they’ve shouted at the television screen.
Alongside the Hethel-backed outfit, Hingham’s Caterham are starting to impress too. Heikki Kovalainen’s Q1 success on Saturday was their most memorable moment in F1 to date for me, and they are tantalisingly close to making a real midfield impact.
• It is three weeks between Sakhir and Formula One returning to competitive action, with the start of the European season coming in Barcelona on May 13.
However, the break from racing won’t lessen how vitally important next week is.
For the first time in four seasons, F1 will hold a midseason test – at the Ferrari-owned Italian circuit of Mugello – which will run from Tuesday to Thursday next week.
It will be the first time the likes of HRT and Marussia have properly tested a current car, while the results of the three days will be invaluable to the teams hoping to make an impact at the front – although it sounds like HRT are set to turn down the opportunity.
And given the opening four rounds of the season, that is quite a queue of constructors and drivers.
What would be a big shame is if Red Bull maximise the RB8 in three days the way they have developed it in four races – because with McLaren seemingly tripping over themselves, Mugello could produce the effect we would all prefer to avoid.