Another week down — another week of memorable quotes and reassurances from Bernie Ecclestone and the Bahraini government…
But Bernie has been just pipped to the post this week, and despite his best efforts, has failed to take out his second consecutive Umm of the week award.
Instead, the prize is to be taken home by Bahrain’s crown prince, who somehow managed to keep a straight face while delivering the following message:
“[F1] allows us to celebrate our nation. It is an idea that is positive, not one that is divisive.” — Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa
It is a particularly interesting thing to say given the division that F1 has exacerbated has been made as obvious as ever this afternoon following an enormous peaceful protest on a main road.
“I genuinely believe this race is a force for good; it unites many people from many different religious backgrounds, sexes and ethnicities, under the roof of Formula 1. All of them are excited that you’re here and I hope that you get a chance to interview some of these fans and see what they really think,” he went on to add.
Unfortunately (for his sake), it is exceedingly difficult to take such a statement seriously after everything that has already gone wrong.
It has been widely reported that the mood in the paddock is decidedly less jovial than in previous years and that the streets of the kingdom’s capital, Manama, have been cleared out to help convey a message of normality and peace.
But you only have to look as far as Twitter to get the other side of the story, and the violence in lesser-populated areas of the country has not abated since F1’s arrival.
Violent crackdowns are expected should activists attempt to disrupt F1 this weekend, and certain more extremist minorities have promised to not make things easy for the event’s organisers.
The thought of conflict between the two sides is especially worrying when Bahrain’s track-record for human-rights abuses is so terrifying. John Yates, a former Assistant Commissioner in the London Metropolitan Police Service has chimed in to help the monarchy with its pre-race spin and publicity. But even he didn’t sugarcoat his words when he admitted violence is to be expected whilst F1 is in Bahrain.
Barbed wire lines the roads and teams are escorted to and from the track with especially appointed bodyguards, with further tightened security and special police services deployed in many areas of the country. Enormous “UniF1ed” banners and billboards are plastered in and around the kingdom — with some as big as skyscrapers — blatantly making a mockery of article 1 of the FIA’s statutes against politicisation of Grands Prix.
But all of this is quite obviously irrelevant. The countless hours of footage and thousands of photographs circulating around the internet have all been fabricated by the media according to Bernie and the crown prince.
Needless to say, not many people have fallen for the propaganda, and the second ever Umm of the week goes to a very worthy recipient.