With the F1 world now returned from Bahrain, the sport is assessing the fallout of one of the most controversial grands prix in history.
The drivers were conspicuously quiet over the saga in the island Kingdom, but – with no contract tying him down – former Force India driver Adrian Sutil admitted he was glad he was not there.
“In a situation like that, it is probably better not to go,” the German said on Sky Deutschland. “On the one hand, the decision was made (to go to Bahrain), on the other hand, it’s very difficult when there are so many problems in a country.”
Red Bull reserve driver Sebastien Buemi, who has family living in Bahrain, does not agree at all.
“I arrived on Monday and I had no problem – maybe there were a few more police than two years ago, but nothing happened to me,” the Swiss insisted on Austrian Servus TV.
Force India and Sauber, however, witnessed Molotov cocktail attacks on their treks to and from the circuit. And Caterham team spokesman Tom Webb told the Sun that there was “one minor incident when one of our (hire) vans slowed down in traffic and its occupants saw a local youth on the side of the main road brandishing a bottle with a rag stuffed in its neck”. World champion and race winner Sebastian Vettel also admitted the feeling was tense in the paddock throughout the weekend.
“It was not easy for anyone,” the Red Bull driver admitted, according to SID news agency, “but I’m glad that nothing happened to any of us (in F1).”
And the Telegraph quotes Vettel adding: “Hopefully, we come back in the future when everything’s a little bit safer.”
Reuters reports that Vodafone, the main sponsor of the half Bahrain-owned McLaren team, sent no staff to the country and expressed concerns to the British outfit.
But Jim Wright, an F1 sponsorship expert, told the Guardian that he thinks while the sport’s image took a beating last weekend, sponsors will be happy.
“Most teams handled a difficult decision very well,” he said. “On that basis I think a lot of people would be pleased with that and happy to get involved with them.”
The television audience was also unaffected – even boosted – with the BBC reporting more viewers for Bahrain than Australia and Malaysia, and Germany revealing similarly strong figures. Still, there remains criticism.
“Now is an opportunity to reflect,” former F1 driver Alex Zanardi told Tuttosport, “and make sure that major sporting events are assigned only to governments that deserve the honour of hosting them.
“Ecclestone is brilliant and has made formula one what it is, but he can’t administer races at any cost and above all else,” insisted the Italian.
Due to security fears, Force India sat out a practice session on Friday so that staff could return to their hotels in daylight. F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone was reportedly enraged, and according to rumours got his revenge by instructing Formula One Management’s television cameras to ignore the Silverstone based team’s cars in qualifying.
“There was a bit of fuss about what we did,” deputy team principal Bob Fernley is quoted by Spain’s AS newspaper, “and it was not easy, but I think it turned out to be the right response. We had a lot of pressure, our attitude was not well received,” he confirmed, “but I think that we had a duty of care to our employees, and to do the right thing by the team.”