Video: F1: Eyes of world now on Bahrain
There are many reasons why F1 finds itself in a mess, writes David Kennedy
FORMULA One has been thrust into a global spotlight this weekend as the world's eyes focuses on why they are racing in Bahrain in the first place, and now that they are here, will the race go ahead or be cancelled.
As F1 personnel inadvertently find themselves playing the role of revolutionary tourist, there is a lot of head-scratching as to how they got into this mess.
There's a consensus that Bernie Ecclestone would have agreed to the roadshow racing in Homs, Syria if he felt he could get away with it. There's no ambiguity about where he stands; the dollar isn't shaped like a race circuit for nothing. The FIA is equally sanguine but, at the same time, probably terrified they'll be sued for negligence if the lives of team members are jeopardised because the governing body overruled the law of common sense.
McLaren is here because the country's sovereign wealth fund, Mumtalakat, owns 50 per cent of its company. It's the tail wagging the dog in their case but the point is there's a myriad of reasons why the sport has come to race in Bahrain.
Drivers are paid handsomely to risk their lives on the track but for many of the modestly-salaried F1 folk, it was considered unacceptable to be asked to compromise their safety on the altar of the coffers of billionaires. But the pawns in Bernie's chess game don't really have much say in the matter. Maybe Russian roulette would be a better analogy than chess
In truth, F1 has done the country's majority Shia Muslims a favour coming to town because in terms of PR garnered, their plea for democracy, instead of falling on the deaf ears of the ruling Sunni elite, now has an audience of half a billion people across 187 countries. Only the World Cup and the Olympics have more viewers -- and that's every four years.
Last weekend, Bahrain hosted a pro-celebrity golf tournament which was won by Paul Casey partnered by American Football legend Joe Montana. There was no disruption to the event, which may suggest that the protesters consider golfers too tame to waste their revolutionary message on.
Bahrain has powerful allies in the UAE and the US, who are only too willing to help the kingdom because they believe this is an Iranian-backed offensive, though that's hardly a country you'd associate with democracy. The Middle East is nervous that if these revolutionaries succeed in toppling the Bahraini regime then their own country, kingdom or fiefdom will be next. F1 is caught up in a vortex of political chicanery as they try to go about their business of racing cars. If the sport's presence here ultimately helps bring about a more equitable Bahrain, then their visit will have been worth it.
So moving from the heat of the battle field to the heat of tyres, today's race -- given the extreme temperatures in the desert -- will be fundamentally about tyre degradation. Whoever gets the balance right between heat and wear will triumph.
Last Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix was a cracker and, if the first three grands prix set the tone for the season, then we can look forward to a brilliant year.
In China, eight is considered a lucky number but for Nico Rosberg it was the number one because on his 111th Grand Prix he finished first. The timely victory came exactly 30 years after his father Keke won the world championship for Williams in 1982. Back then he did so with just a single win, in a year that saw 11 different victors.
Rosberg won the Swiss Grand Prix, which was then held in Dijon, France because Switzerland has banned circuit racing following the Le Mans fatalities of 1955. That ban is still in force to this day.
Could history repeat itself with Nico winning the title with one race win? He joins Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button in becoming the third different winner in as many races. Things were very different in Keke's day, not least in terms of driver safety.
Two drivers were killed the year Keke was crowned champion -- Gilles Villeneuve and Riccardo Paletti. Didier Pironi sustained serious leg injuries in qualifying for the German GP. He never raced in F1 again and a few years later, he was killed in a power-boat race.
Nico joins the other two famous father/son combinations of Gilles and Jacques Villeneuve, and Graham and Damon Hill, the later duo both became world champions. But Keke is the only father who lived to see his son achieve his success and he must have been very proud of him last weekend when he also got pole position and shared the front row with Michael Schumacher. Rosberg's maiden win gave Mercedes their first victory since 1955. For team boss Ross Brawn, it was the fourth winning team he has presided over.
This season, the racing is ultra-competitive for a variety of reasons. Tyres have a high degree of degradation which accounts for why a driver who is leading a race one minute finds himself in tenth the next. Plus other teams have caught up with Red Bull and now McLaren and Mercedes are enjoying their time in the limelight. With a staggering six world champions lining up on the grid, not to mention the prodigious new talent, the level of driving is really exceptional.
The F1 roadshow will be relieved to start the European leg of the season in three weeks in Catalunya. A well-earned breather is on the cards for everyone with time to consolidate where they are and how they can improve. Of course, they'll look back on their Bahrain experience and hope their presence left something of value in their wake, long after the last transporter has left the kingdom.
Sunday Indo Sport