The Situation With Bahrain

I genuinely hope the positive reports emanating from the F1 crowd of a quiet Bahrain are true, and not because the population has been suppressed by local or Saudi or Pakistani security forces. Sadly that is not the picture emerging from at least some sections of the small country.

We’re being told via Twitter that teams and journos alike are seeing little action on the run from Manama to Sakhir and back save for the odd small fire (and obviously that Force India team incident the other day). However you can expect that road to be heavily protected by the authorities, indeed some journalists counted at least 70 police vehicles along the route.

The reports I’ve seen suggest they are mostly in out-of-the-way villages, journalists had to go and find them, which doesn’t make them any less important but it disproves the theory the country is in chaos. That they are taking place at all disproves the alternative theory that everything is just fine and dandy and nothing is going on. Some protests in the last couple of days have got a bit closer and there’s always a danger there will be a concerted effort to reach the track on race day. The flashpoint was always going to come when the cars took to the track, either on the now-traditional Friday ‘Day of Rage’ or on Sunday’s race day, or both. Thankfully Friday didn’t seem as bad as I feared it might’ve been, even with the sad fatality of a protestor (for whatever reason). I honestly expected worse than that.

Not knowing the specifics of the locality, although I’ve been trying to read up on it a lot in the past week (and indeed 12 months ago), I don’t know if these protests show a sample of a much broader picture. The protesters say the vast majority of the populace supports them. The government says the vast majority of the populace supports the race going ahead, though they have yet to claim the majority supports the government.  I tend to believe the protestors, I can easily believe more people support them than are willing to says so when the government is tear gassing them and firing rubber bullets, this being the same government which a year ago fired live rounds into a crowd armed only with flags, the same government which attacked a hospital.

If the dispute stays within these factions it would remain an internal matter, a desperately sad one with terrible acts committed by individuals on each side of the divide – the official forces have done some horrific things but the protestors are not as innocent as they may like to portray themselves either, the injuries to police show that. If it is self-defence against unprovoked attacks from forces then fine, I agree, do what you can to defend yourselves. But if not? Unacceptable. Regardless, it is a scenario which others shouldn’t be walking into.

It isn’t the fullscale rioting some media outlets are portraying, but neither is it safe, especially when you have a trigger-happy police and army force around. People who beat people to a pulp just because they’ve been arrested.

As a racing fan, my primary concern is the safety and security of the ‘travelling circus’ of F1, GP2 and Supercup teams, drivers and sports media personnel. Quite honestly, if I were a team owner and any single member of my staff were injured as a result of protest action or government response, no matter how indirectly, whether they were the intended target or not, I would take the FIA, FOM, Todt, Ecclestone and whomever else to the courts. There is no way any of them should be in the country right now.

As a private individual, I genuinely hope the Bahrainis work through their problems and in a peaceful manner. Further discussions should be held to progress reform.

After Tianenman Square China went through a long healing process and a period of opening up to the world, there are still huge problems but they are making progress and I am convinced the Olympics played a big part in that. There is the chance the Grand Prix could do something similar for Bahrain and the government seems to be banking on that – but this is much too early. Bahrain has not had that healing period. Another 12 months should pass before a Grand Prix should be held. Sadly it is too late for that now, this race is going to go ahead. I fear for potential lives lost tomorrow.

Positive Thinking

The protest movement is already doing well out of this. The government looks weak, foolish and stupid. Sadly, so does F1 and more specifically Bernie Eccelstone, Jean Todt and the FIA. The teams can (just about) get away with saying they are contracted to be there and would lose millions, potentially their entry to the Championship and thus their jobs, they have no choice.

They protestors now have the eyes of the world upon them. Everyone knows their cause. They have been silenced in the world media by Syria and before it Libya. Now they are front and centre on the world stage – this would not have happened without Formula 1. For better, for worse. They will continue to make the rulers of Bahrain look foolish and careless. This despite the best efforts of Bahrain Government to stop independent news reporters visiting the country.

I am glad some of the F1 contingent remembered they are journalists first and foremost and not press release recyclers, and went out to look for the protests themselves. It was a dangerous move. It paid off.

Will I watch the race? Probably. My feeling is if some protest happens during the race I will be more informed if I watch it rather than if I read about it later. I will better be able to form my own opinions and conclusions. I don’t feel comfortable though and I am fully expecting to switch off – or not switch on at all.

I don’t know that I’ll be paying very close attention to tyre strategies and positions through the field. I may be too busy looking at the corners of TV pictures to see if the cameraman/director is trying to crop something out, the way they do at quiet events when they try to avoid showing empty grandstands.

If I do watch I may elect to withold my usual Twitter interaction and opinion unless a protest does take place, or I may make it exclusively about the situation rather than anything in sporting terms. In terms of racing and sport I am honestly more interested in the London Marathon than I am the result of this Bahrain GP. Even if it does take place in the most exciting F1 season we’ve seen in years.

 

Not Simply Going Around In Circles

On Thursday, Prime Minister David Cameron visited the McLaren Group in Woking to launch the new McLaren Production Centre, where the McLaren MP4-12C sportscar will be constructed. I’m not one for PR stunts and especially not political PR stunts, but this one is really worth looking at.

The speeches from both Cameron and Ron Dennis, whilst also filled with the usual political guff we can largely ignore for the purposes of a racing blog, served as a timely reminder that motorsport solutions developed within the normally insular world of racing can be developed into real world applications.

As always the excellent Joe Saward was on the case, driving over from France  especially for the event, and provides the transcripts of both the McLaren CEO and the follow-up speech from the PM. Also see this other post.

Do read the full text at Joe’s site if you have the time. Here are some interesting excerpts about these technologies which caught my eye, some of which we knew about before but are worth revisiting. There’s also a fair amount of crowing which I’m not really a fan of, but at least with stats like these it is justifiable.

“McLaren [..] has won 20 Formula 1 world championships and 175 Formula 1 races – a total which equates to one in every four races that we’ve contested since 1966. We’ve also won the famous Indianapolis 500 race three times and the iconic Le Mans 24 Hours race at our first attempt.”
Ron Dennis

That’s astonishing. I’ll reiterate that because it is amazing to me. A quarter of all F1 races they’ve entered since 1966, they’ve won.

“[In 2012] McLaren Electronic Systems will be in a unique position. Because every single car in the world’s three premier motor racing series – in other words every single car in Formula 1, every single car in the IndyCar series and every single car in the most popular and successful racing series in the United States, NASCAR – will all be using engine control units made here in Woking.”
Ron Dennis

I’d include the World Endurance Championship as a premier world motorsport series but I’ll let him off as that’s new, and 3 out of 4 ain’t bad. This is quite the acheivement.

“The British cyclist Mark Cavendish, who’s here today, became a world champion this year on a Specialized road bike that was developed by McLaren Applied Technologies.”
Ron Dennis

I find this to be very cool. This isn’t the first F1-developed racing bike because in the 90s Chris Boardman rode one developed by the original Team Lotus. It is nice to see others following on with that work.

We’re working with the British Olympic Association on a number of sports and a number of British Olympians will therefore benefit from McLaren Applied Technologies during London 2012.
Ron Dennis

We’re gonna win medals, don’t you forget it.

It’s engineering so groundbreaking that when space scientists are looking for ideas they come to the brains of Formula 1. You remember Beagle 2? It was cased in a lightweight plastic first developed for Formula 1 exhaust systems.
David Cameron

You heard that right: space engineers come to F1 for ideas. This blows my tiny little mind.

Great Ormond Street [Children’s Hospital] saw how efficiently car wheels were changed in the pits so they worked with Formula 1 experts to streamline the transfer of patients into intensive care.
David Cameron

This isn’t so much about technology as about processes, this is about medical personnel learning from pit crews, the way in the pits the mechanics are timed to tenths of a second just to get that pitstop right. Everyone has to be positioned in the right place at exactly the right time – much like they do in intensive care. Put the right person in the right place at the right time and lives can be saved.

There are plenty of other examples both in these speeches and by looking around the web, and if you want to read about apprenticeships and schemes to help young engineers do go and read the full speeches. I have a lot to things to be critical about with the current political administration (and I do mean a lot of things), but science and engineering funding is not one of them.

In closing, I never used to be a fan of McLaren as a Formula 1 team and to this day they do make it hard sometimes, however these days I like them enough to own a couple of bright red ‘Victory Shirts’.

When they start expanding into different areas like this and using their knowledge for the better good (making a nice profit along the way – and why not?), it is difficult not to admire them for it. And they’ve re-entered sportscar racing with their shiny new MP4-12C which looks the business in GT3 race trim – almost good as the Audi R8 LMS!
The same applies to teams – or ‘businesses’, as the word ‘teams’ is a hangover from simpler times – such as WilliamsF1 who are doing similar work on non-F1 projects.

People say McLaren are grey, faceless and boring. Do you still think that now? I certainly don’t.

So there you go, motor racing isn’t just about cars following each other around in circles for a few hours every other Sunday.

FIA Presidency

Jean Todt won the FIA Presidential Election.

I don’t like him. I don’t trust him. He made many fans’ lives a misery for years at Ferrari with his sniping and bending of the rules.

It sucks that a) he had the better ideas and manifesto, and b) won.
Such a shame Vatanen came over as just a bit too clueless.

We’ll wait and see if this new era brings us the promised changes or if he’ll ‘forget’. His first act appears to be to make Michael Schumacher his F1 Commissioner. I have no idea how true that is. Let’s hope not at all.

On the plus side… he’s gotta be better than Max.

Why We Are Here

I’m a bit late catching up with my RSS reader, as I am with so many things. Nevertheless, I would like to associate myself with remarks made by Joe Saward recently. If you are disillusioned with the endless politicking in F1 and other motorsports be sure to give it a read – and also the comments, because the second comment is from motorsport historian Gerald Donaldson and there is also a comment from F1 PR man Nav Sidhu.
It is nice know that in a world where we can all write what we will, there is still a place for the professional writer to help us express ourselves more clearly.

http://joesaward.wordpress.com/2009/09/17/two-crashes/

Back in the world of the bloggers, I also echo Alia’s response to that post:

http://formula1home.com/forum/weblog_entry.php?e=844

I don’t wish to ride on their coat-tails, merely to pass on some good writing which deserves an audience. See you for Singapore.