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Just weeks after claiming that F1 could return to Bahrain this year, 1996 world champion Damon Hill has had a change of heart admitting concern over the forthcoming event.
Last year, as the FIA and F1's powers that be dithered, Hill spoke out against the race, urging the sport to take a moral stand. However, in February, having made two visits to the Gulf state, one with FIA President Jean Todt, and hours after joining the Sky F1 team, the Englishman had another change of heart, urging that the race would benefit Bahrain and its people.
Now, with the race just two weeks away, Hill has made another u-turn, admitting that the forthcoming event causes him great concern.
"Things are different now," he told the Guardian. "The protests have not abated and may even have become more determined and calculated. It is a worrying state of affairs."
Reminded of his contract with Sky F1, the only British broadcaster to carry all this year's world championship races live, he said: "Some things are more important than contracts. The view I gave after returning from the visit last year was based on my understanding of several factors; the substantial economic significance of the GP for Bahrain; that the report on the April riots condemned the actions of the police and security forces, and that both sides were to take part in meaningful dialogue to resolve the problems peacefully. Under those conditions one could imagine the GP being a great fillip for a Bahrain on the road to recovery.
"However, with under three weeks to go, conditions do not seem to have improved, judging by the reports in our European newspapers, social media and on Al Jazeera TV. The recent meeting to garner support for the race as a unifying event was troubling insofar as it tried to represent the rioting in Bahrain as the result of bad press reporting and as a 'youth' issue.
"Promoting the race as 'Uniting Bahrain', whilst a laudable ambition, might be elevating F1 beyond even its own prodigious powers. I'm just saying we have to tread carefully. I hope the FIA are considering the implications of this fully and that events in Bahrain are not seen as they are often sold, as a bunch of yobs throwing Molotov cocktails, because that's a gross simplification. If they believe that, they ought be more wary. You don't get 100,000 people risking their lives in protest for nothing."
However, despite his obvious misgivings, Hill isn't calling for the race to be called off, a move which would cause great loss of face to all involved at this late stage.
"If we go, we all go," he said. "But there is obviously still a great deal of pain, anger and tension in Bahrain. It would be better for F1 to make it clear that it properly understands this, and that it wants only the best for all Bahrain, or whatever country it visits. I think F1 is sailing very close to this limit.
"But there is an even more troubling thought, which is this: is F1 playing brinkmanship for purely financial reasons while people are putting their lives in peril to protest against this event?"
Last week's meeting PR stunt/meeting in London, at which Bernie Ecclestone and a number of team bosses insisted that all is well in Bahrain was, in many ways, like a red rag to the protest parties back in Bahrain.
Pitpass' concern over the race is not an anti Bahrain stance or even an anti F1 in Bahrain stance, it is merely the desire to warn the sport that there is a much bigger issue here and that by visiting the Gulf state it places itself at risk.
As much as we would warn friends not to visit certain part of London for a late night gig or drink, we fear for members of the F1 circus visiting Bahrain at this time. The team bosses who attended last week's PR event will be protected 24/7, as will Ecclestone and the drivers, however, we fear for the mechanics, the catering staff, the journos and broadcast crews.
We want to see F1 in Bahrain, but only when the region is safe and not when there is the strong probability of the sport, and those involved in it, being used as pawns in a bigger game. We've had enough of that already.
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