Bahrain’s political situation has completely overshadowed the track action this weekend. Drivers usually asked about tyre temperatures, and team bosses normally pressed about technical rows, have instead been asked about civil unrest, security, and – most recently – the death of a Bahraini protester.
“I think it’s always dreadful if someone dies, but I don’t know what happened,” an uncomfortable Sebastian Vettel said on Saturday after finally returning to pole position after a difficult start to his 2012 campaign.
Tom Cary, writing in the Telegraph, insisted: “In the circumstances, qualifying was almost an irrelevance.”
In the paddock, it is clear that those representing formula one have had to take a side in the saga: either insisting life is continuing for the bulk of Bahrainis, or joining the intense criticism of the decision to press ahead this weekend. Undoubtedly, outside the Sakhir circuit, Molotov cocktails have been – and are being – thrown. And behind the guarded paddock gates, there are plenty of nervous faces.
La Stampa’s Stefano Mancini relayed how, when a fireworks display began at the circuit in the early evening, the tension rose dramatically.
O Estado de S.Paulo correspondent Livio Oricchio, however, insisted that Bahrain is no warzone, and he even agreed with FIA president Jean Todt that the international media has played a guilty role.
“There are a lot of irresponsible journalists in these moments, just as in any human activity, there are good and bad professionals. Life is going on here; the world is not ending.”
Bahrain’s horrific impact on F1, however, is undisputedly real. Following the internet terrorist group Anonymous’ attack on the sport’s official website, at the time of writing the FIA website is also down.
The criticism is also real and justifiable, shining a spotlight on Bernie Ecclestone for pithily dismissing an issue important to the citizens of his grand prix host nation, and FIA president Jean Todt for his near silence. The number one question being asked, therefore, is not who will win Sunday’s race, but can it go ahead at all.
“There is no such thing as certainty,” Frenchman Todt told RMC Sport, “but that’s the same for everything.
“If you are asking if I’m confident we will have a good race, I say yes, without hesitation.”
Todt’s played down the damage the saga might do to F1’s image, but it might also be said that his words amount to little more than damage-control.
“He (Todt) is a passenger,” Cary wrote in the Telegraph. “Formula one is just crossing its fingers now”.
For others, the damage is already done — even after Todt finally broke his silence on Saturday.
The Times’ Kevin Eason has been highly critical of Todt’s handling of the situation, but the FIA president at least attended Bahrain and met with selected journalists on Saturday.
“The Times … was not on the list of selected media outlets,” revealed Eason. “Whatever justification Todt has for a race that has been mired in controversy and protest is, as a result, unrecorded.”
The final battle for F1 will be to emerge from the fallout of the most controversial grand prix in recent history.
“We’re here now,” said frustrated Mercedes boss Ross Brawn on Saturday, “and after this event we need to sit down and discuss it.”