Side Views

In Shanghai, with so much talk of Bahrain — Ian De Cotta

April 14, 2012

APRIL 14 — The 2012 Formula 1 season returns to action this weekend after a three-week break and after the last race in Malaysia turned the championship on its head, a correction is expected at the Chinese Grand Prix. 

Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso is the unlikely leader among the cast of 24 drivers, after the Ferrari ace took advantage of the heavy rain at Sepang. But the Prancing Horse is skittish and still unpredictable and should be tough to handle in Shanghai, unless the engineers have worked a mini-miracle on the car over the last couple of weeks. 

Barring a mechanical failure, bad luck or human error, I expect the McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Melbourne winner Jenson Button to feature at the front. 

Many eyes will be on Red Bull, who still seem to be coming to terms without their cutting-edge diffuser, now banned by the FIA. 

The racing has been surprisingly exciting over the last two Grands Prix, with the Mercedes driver Michael Schumacher performing well in practice and looking to have the pace, while Sergio Perez’s second-place finish in Malaysia suggests Sauber have a potential star in their stable. 

But Shanghai has been robbed of much of the attention due to the controversy hanging over the Bahrain race in a week’s time. A year after deadly clashes between pro-democracy protestors and the Gulf kingdom’s security forces, there is little to suggest that violence between the two sides has abated. 

Last year’s Grand Prix was cancelled because of the violence, but motorsports’ world governing body the FIA said yesterday next week’s race will go on unless the Bahrainis themselves call it off. 

Having forked out a king’s ransom to hold the race — it is believed the Bahrainis paid US$40 million (RM136 million) for last year’s Grand Prix — I would think the Bahrain Government would pull out all the stops to ensure it is not wasted yet again. And it will be the perfect tool to use to tell the world all is right in the kingdom. Already there has been much chatter about Formula 1’s moral obligation. 

After meeting with the team principals in Shanghai yesterday, the sport’s supremo Bernie Ecclestone insisted that all the teams were happy to race in Bahrain. I am sure it was a tough decision because it is inconceivable those in the paddock and motorsports chiefs like Jean Todt, and Ecclestone himself, tolerate the ugly scenes that have played out in Bahrain. 

With six world champions on the grid and the season already looking as if it could offer up an exciting battle for silverware — even after only two races — the powers-that-be cannot afford a misstep that could taint the Formula 1 year. 

After years of scandals like Sexgate, Spygate and Liegate rocking the sport, many will not fault Formula 1 if it took the moral high ground and pulled out of Bahrain. While the world wants to see speed merchants like Vettel, Alonso and Hamilton fight each other off, I feel a pullout would have been the right thing to do. After all, sport is a wonderful tool to use to convey the right message. — Today 

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication. The Malaysian Insider does not endorse the view unless specified