• Bahrain Grand Prix

The waiting game

Martin Williamson February 17, 2011

Until today, it seemed the unrest in Bahrain would not be enough to derail the start of the Formula One season. But this weekend's GP2 Asia race has now been scrapped and events over the last 24 hours indicate the situation could be something beyond even the skills and politicking of Bernie Ecclestone.

Formula One has always put money before almost anything else - as with almost all other major sports - and in courting the cash-rich Middle East there was always a risk, until recently a miniscule one, that policy could come back to haunt the administrators.

The activities of autocratic regimes, of which Bahrain is at the milder end of the scale, can be glossed over. In the enclosed world of Formula One one venue is not dissimilar to another. The roadshow arrives, performs and then leaves town, often without really affecting or being affected by the locality.

Bahrain and Abu Dhabi embraced Formula One as it gave them credibility and exposure. In return, they gave money. Lots of it. Everyone, so it seemed, as happy.

While the authorities kept the population in check all was well. But now unrest is spreading and the usual bullish comments from Jean Todt and Ecclestone sit rather uneasily with news that overnight security forces moved in without warning and fired tear gas and rubber bullets into crowds in Manama, killing at least three people. Today, tanks are out on the streets.

There are two weeks to go before the Formula One world arrives en masse in Bahrain for the final round of testing; a week later comes the Grand Prix. Things still might quieten down. But as has been seen in Egypt and Tunisia, one the momentum for change has reached a certain point it is almost unstoppable.

The straw Formula One can cling on to is that the demonstrations are all aimed at the authorities and there is no sign there is any antagonism towards foreigners. But that too can change. For once the money men can do nothing but sit back and watch CNN.

Martin Williamson is managing editor of digital media ESPN EMEA

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Martin Williamson is managing editor of digital media ESPN EMEA Martin Williamson, who grew up in the era of James Hunt, Niki Lauda and sideburns, became managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group in 2007 after spells with Sky Sports, Sportal and Cricinfo