What a tangle Formula 1 has found itself in, again. The sport has ended up on the front pages for the wrong reasons yet again.
The problems with rescheduling Bahrain
The reinstatement of the Bahrain Grand Prix is somewhat of a surprise. Clearly the situation in Bahrain is not the sort of circumstance where you can reasonably expect to hold a major international sporting event in complete security.
Employees of Pirelli were in Bahrain when trouble first flared up, when the GP2 Asia race had to be cancelled at the last minute. According to Adam Cooper, they are “not keen to return”.
Then there are the morals of holding the grand prix when the spotlight is on Bahrain’s human rights record. (Not that regularly holding grands prix in China seem to make many people bat an eyelid.) If Bahrain’s problems are temporary, as some maintain, then let them prove it and return next year.
If holding the grand prix will be a “unifying force” for Bahrain, as others claim, take a look at the planned “day of action” for 30 October, the rescheduled date for the grand prix.
30 October. That brings me on to the logistics of this. It is clear that holding the race even in a perfectly peaceful situation would involve a logistical mountain to climb. Not only does it involve moving the Bahrain Grand Prix. It also involves moving the inaugural Indian Grand Prix to the end of the year, which in turn stretches the length of the season to breaking point.
The teams are not happy about the prospect of racing just a couple of weeks before Christmas. By that time, their workers will be overdue a holiday. If the season gets much longer, teams would have to contemplate hiring extra staff. But with everyone involved in Formula 1 desperately trying to keep a lid on costs, this would be a painful step to take.
All of this makes me think, what is really going on here? Is it feasible? What is the real story?
Why move the Indian Grand Prix?
30 October was whispered as a potential date for a rescheduled Bahrain Grand Prix a few weeks ago. My very first thought was, “Why move the Indian Grand Prix?”
Last year there were high-profile troubles with the new Korea International Circuit. The circuit was barely finished in time, as it failed inspection after inspection. In the end, the race could be held — just. But it was marred by a dreadful spray problem in rainy conditions, which some attributed to the type of tarmac that had to be used to lay it in a hurry.
Fernando Alonso recently said, “It was completely dark and it was so wet. It was one hour delayed because of the wet. We could not follow the safety car because of the spray. There were so many things in one race that it remains quite shocking what we did in Korea.”
As far as I’m aware, there is no serious suggestion that the Buddh International Circuit in India is in danger of not being completed in time. But it is not complete yet, with just a few months before the original October slot.
Has the Indian Grand Prix been moved to give the circuit constructors a bit more breathing space to ensure that the circuit is completed properly? To have another Korea-style embarrassment for a second year running is clearly to be avoided.
Perhaps the main aim was to move the Indian Grand Prix, and use Bahrain as the pawn to do it. If the FIA decide that the Bahrain Grand Prix cannot be held after all, they will simply cancel it and keep India in its new 11 December slot.
What’s going on with the 2012 calendar?
On the same day, the provisional 2012 calendar was published. It also had a couple of surprises. Bahrain and India are both in the calendar in the positions you would expect, the same as the original 2011 calendar.
What is a surprise is that Turkey is included — albeit with one of those infamous asterisks. All previous indications were that the 2011 Turkish Grand Prix would be the last one.
With the addition of the United States Grand Prix, this nudges the calendar up to 21 grands prix. This has always been a big no-no. Even 20 races is pushing the limit of what the teams are in favour of. Bernie Ecclestone claims his aim is for a 20 race calendar. Jean Todt says that there will “absolutely not” be as many as 21 races next season, despite the provisional calendar.
So what’s going on? It seems to me like the powers that be are trying to cover all the bases. If Bahrain can’t take place next year, Turkey is ready to go and Bernie has his 20 races. Similarly, if India can’t take place, or the USA, or indeed any other race, the backup plan is there.
With one extra race in the calendar anyway, this looks like a way for Bernie Ecclestone to be sure that, after this year’s hiccups, 2012 will have 20 races.