Damon Hill has changed his mind yet again on the controversial issue of Bahrain’s return to Formula One later this month.
Amid the debate about the island Kingdom’s return to the calendar in the wake of the cancelled 2011 event, the 1996 world champion said initially: “F1 must align itself with progression, not repression”. But he changed his tune after travelling with FIA president Jean Todt to Bahrain, insisting the situation on the ground had changed since the 2011 protests.
“The grand prix is of huge economic importance to Bahrain. You’d almost be putting an economic sanction on Bahrain by pulling the race,” said Hill.
But the Briton has now changed his mind again, apparently after the latest reports of violence on the streets and the reaction in the international media.
Hill is quoted by the Guardian newspaper: “It would be a bad state of affairs, and bad for Formula One, to be seen to be enforcing martial law in order to hold the race. Looking at it today you’d have to say that (the race) could be creating more problems than it’s solving.”
The former Williams driver is scheduled to attend this month’s Bahrain grand prix as a television analyst, but Hill brushed aside any thoughts about his lucrative contract with the British broadcaster Sky.
“Some things are more important than contracts.”
He also expressed misgivings about a recent media briefing in London, in which Bernie Ecclestone and team bosses stood with the Bahrain organisers and insisted the race is going ahead despite the continuing controversy.
Damon said that event was “troubling insofar as it tried to represent the rioting in Bahrain as the result of bad press reporting and as a ‘youth’ issue.
“I hope the FIA are considering the implications of this fully and that events in Bahrain are not seen as they are often sold, as a bunch of yobs throwing molotov cocktails, because that’s a gross simplification.”
Writing in O Estado de S.Paulo newspaper, Brazilian correspondent Livio Oricchio admitted he thinks it would be “almost reckless” for F1 to travel to Bahrain this month.
“At Sepang,” he wrote, “many team members were very concerned. They said their insurance companies had expressed concern about going to an Arab country in a belligerent state.
“Personally, I don’t think we will be attacked, but it is the goal of the protesters to do anything so that the grand prix is not run.
“The Arab Spring is very much alive in this small country in the Persian Gulf,” he admitted.
And the Times of London’s Kevin Eason wrote on Twitter: “I have been thinking F1 should give Bahrain a chance but I am not convinced now that safety can be guaranteed.”