Hill calls for FIA clarity on Bahrain


Damon Hill has called on Formula One's governing body, the FIA, to climb off of the fence and address growing concerns surrounding the staging of the Bahrain Grand Prix.

The Bahrain event remains an open sore for the sport, and despite Bernie Ecclestone's recent claim that all is well, recent events in the country, including the arrest of a number of 'activists' suggest otherwise.

Although it is an event Ecclestone is determined to retain on the calendar, the Bahrain race has been a thorn in the side of F1 for the last couple of years. In 2011, in the wake of the so-called Arab Spring which triggered unrest in the country, it was the organisers who eventually cancelled the race which had already been subject to a schedule change as the sport waited on the unrest easing off.

In 2012, despite widespread condemnation of events in the country, the race went ahead, a number of leading figures within the sport, including Damon Hill, appearing to change their views depending on which way the wind was blowing.

The race passed without incident, indeed, the unrest in Bahrain disappeared from the headlines, until now. With the 2013 staging of the Bahrain Grand Prix just over a week away, the authorities are keen to ensure that there is no trouble, the first phase of the plan being the arrest of around twenty 'activists'.

Speaking at an event organised by Richard Burden MP, a member of the House of Commons International Development Committee, who last year he called on the FIA to rethink its decision to go ahead with the Bahrain event, Hill called on Jean Todt to take a stand indeed, take a lead.

"The question really is whether or not F1 going to Bahrain is actually going to be furthering brutal repression of people by being an endorsement of the way in which repression has been meted out," said the 1996 world champion. "Last year I took the view that the sport and the governing body of the sport should be ensuring that they are not hijacked for the wrong reasons. I'm not entirely sure that they've cleared that point, to be honest."

As with most topics, Todt, has remained silent on the Bahrain issue however, Hill believes that this in itself is a problem.

"That's a mistake because actually he is being political because he's being used, or sport is perceived as being used, by its engagement in the economy and the reputation of the country. He has not said anything that has distanced the sport from things it would find distasteful and upsetting, which I believe everybody in the sport would actually like to do.

"I think the vast majority of the people in Formula One would like to say 'we don't want to come here to make things worse for people. We would like you to enjoy Formula One, we think Formula One's got lots of positive things to offer but please don't on our behalf round people up and brutalise them'. I don't see that being political. That's more ethical than political."

Burden added that despite reassurances from Todt, who has corresponded with him on the matter, he remains concerned.

"It's their decision that they are going to go ahead," he said. "If that is the case, then I think what is vitally important is that they send out the right kind of messages around that decision.

"Perhaps the most vital is that they understand what the problem is. And that they do want to use F1 in the way they said they wanted to use it last year, to promote changes in the country. If that is going to happen, it has to be measurable in some ways.

"If they don't do that, they won't be contributing to a resolution of things in Bahrain and more importantly they won't be doing anything in the long term for the reputation of F1."

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Published: 11/04/2013
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