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Why is F1 still planning to race at Bahrain in 2013?

Published January 9, 2013

I have been A.W.O.L. this week and much of last, and I apologize. This thing I have called a job keeps getting in the way.

Lots to talk about, so here goes.

Red Bull racing director Helmut Marko says Fernando Alonso was too “political” in 2012 and that’s why he lost the title by three points to Sebastian Vettel.

I suggest having a Lotus nearly land on his head might have had more to do with it.

Marko, of course, is a master politician who took a shot at Mark Webber the day before he slandered Alonso.

Marko learned his lessons well from Flavio Briatore, who was famous for hiring the drivers he managed after first launching psychological warfare against the guys he already had.

There is no apparent connection between Marko and Nico Hulkenberg, his current choice to partner Vettel in 2014, but you can bet there’s a link somewhere.

The current F1 is a wasp’s nest of conflicts-of-interest that likely couldn’t happen in most other professional sports. We live with it, though, because there isn’t an alternative.

Talking of F1, the auto racing websites and specialty periodicals are full of the usual non-stories you find at this time of year (“Bernie will step down from F1 post if thrown in jail” – ya think?) when there is a very serious story that could be reported.

And that story is: Why is F1 still planning to race in Bahrain in 2013?

If you Google “Bahrain Grand Prix” and “news,” the first 10 entries are all dated April 2012 when racing and Bahrain were last together.

And there’s the rub. Both the New York Times and National Post published op-ed articles in recent weeks about the situation there, which is worse than it was the last time anybody bothered to take a look. Dissent of any kind is not allowed, more protesters have been killed (about 100 at last count) and the jails are full of people who’ve dared to publicly challenge the regime of King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.

Now, last year, F1 was kind of caught in the middle, in that the schedule was set, the race was on and the violent demonstrations pretty much came out of nowhere. There was great international criticism of F1 and the FIA for going ahead anyway but, as I said, I don’t think they had much choice.

But the 2013 race? Bernie and Jean Todt and the rest of them have had a year to figure out a way to not go there and they haven’t done a thing. They sat on their hands and they should be ashamed.

F1 was decisive in the 1980s and refused to race in South Africa after 1985 because of apartheid. The much-maligned Jean-Marie Balestre, who was president of the FIA at the time, made that decision.

Where is the leadership today? Are not Ecclestone and Todt aware of what’s happening in Bahrain? And if not, why not?

The Bahrain Grand Prix will be a much bigger story this year than it was last and the people who run F1 are courting disaster by still planning to go ahead.

Moving right along, I have a friend in the U.S. who made his living managing a string of 30 or so small-town radio stations throughout the Midwest. He did that for about 15 years. No, he did not have a “job for life,” but he felt pretty comfortable in his position.

One day, the president of the company called and said he’d sold the stations to Gannett. My friend knew instantly that he was out of a job. The new owners would send in their own people to do things their way.

Which is why I, along with many others, was worried about the future of sports car racing in North America when it was announced late last year that the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series and the American Le Mans Series would “merge” in 2014. Specifics about the class structures would be announced in January.

It turned out it wasn’t really a merger. It turned out the Grand Am Rolex Series, which is owned by NASCAR, had purchased the ALMS and I was concerned because of what happened to my friend: the new owners would want to do things their way.

I needn’t have worried. With the exception of the elimination of the poorly populated P1 class, everything else is status quo (GT classes in both series will continue in the new Grand Am, for instance) and I am very optimistic about the future.

NASCAR did not get to be the Goliath it is today by being stupid. I am confident the people in charge will do a good job with sports-car racing.

Short Takes:

— I’ll always think of it as the Busch Clash but that non-points, pre-Daytona 500 pole-winners-only invitational that went on to become the Budweiser Shootout will now be known as The Sprint Unlimited at Daytona. NASCAR calls it “the fans’ race.” Gee, I always thought they all were. . . .

— Carroll Shelby, Skip Barber, Bobby Rahal, Andy Porterfield and Bill Noble are the latest to be named to the SCCA’s Hall of Fame. . . .

—   A.J. Allmendinger and Regan Smith will split the driving chores at Phoenix Racing this Sprint Cup season. . . .

—   The Ontario Topless Sprints series, which was soft-launched a year or so ago, has an aggressive 2013 planned with five stand-alone events and a number of co-sanctioned races planned. The non-winged sprinters will start the season June 15 at the Chatham-area South Buxton Speedway. . . .

—   This in from Adam Saal, who handles PR for some of the drivers assigned to Woodbridge-based AIM Autosport:

“The No. 69 AIM Autosport Team FXDD and No. 61 R.Ferri AIM Motorsport Racing with Ferrari F458s wrapped up their first official event as a two-car GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series team with positive results this past weekend at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 At Daytona test. The No. 69 AIM/FXDD Ferrari F458 and drivers Emil Assentato, Anthony Lazzaro, Nick Longhi and Guy Cosmo ended up ninth fastest overall in the GT ranks at the end of the three-day test while the debuting sister No. 61 AIM/R.Ferri Ferrari F458 improved in every session. Full-season No. 61 teammates Jeff Segal and Max Papis will be joined by Ferrari stalwarts Toni Vilander and Giancarlo Fisichella for the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona later this month.”

Fastest driver at the test was Vancouver’s Michael Valiante, who was behind the wheel of a Daytona Prototype entered by Michael Shank Racing. Scott Maxwell of Toronto was fastest in testing for the Continental Tire support race. . . .

—   Despite rumours to the contrary, Danica Patrick will be front and centre in Go Daddy commercials during this year’s Super Bowl telecast. . . .

—   At least four young Canadian drivers have signed on to compete in the U.S. Formula 2000 Series this year.

Once upon a time, in the 1970s and ‘80s, the world came to Canada to race in memorable series like Formula Atlantic and the Porsche Cup. Except for the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series, there is no national racing series in Canada – particularly a single-seat, open wheel series where these young drivers could hone their skills at home instead of heading for the U.S.

Surely there is someone out there with the skill, drive, ambition and connections to get such a series off the ground again. Guys like  David Deacon and Jack Christie did it before; can they (or someone else) not do it again?

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