Motorhead: Coming soon... the Slough GP

In its review of the Bahrain Grand Prix, Motorhead argues that Formula One will die if it continues to believe it can divorce itself from its surroundings.


In the end it was a decent race. Yet significant as they may be in a sporting context, the 2012 Bahrain GP will not be remembered for Sebastian Vettel's win, Kimi Raikkonen's brilliance or the ongoing travails of McLaren and Ferrari.

For while Formula One continued inside its own little bubble, political protests raged outside.

So the race will be remembered for F1's clumsy stumble into a murky and dangerous situation that could have been avoided had the sport's stakeholders had the good sense to make a collective decision to postpone.

The sport's slightly odd structure led to a Mexican standoff in which neither Formula One (in the guise of Bernie Ecclestone), the FIA nor the teams could blink first without costing themselves a fortune.

And so F1 came and looked the other way while it provoked a storm of protest and violence.

Jenson Button insisted "I have no opinions" when quizzed by journalists, while Vettel dismissed the protests as "hype" and looked forward to focusing on "the stuff that really matters like tyre temperatures and cars".

Motorhead does not particularly blame the individuals who came to do their jobs in trying circumstances, but their attitude typified the total failure of the sport as a whole to consider the wider consequences of racing.

One Twitter user - @Philby1976 - issued a poignant reminder by tweeting once per lap with the name of a person jailed or killed by the Bahrain regime.

It has been a miserable weekend for Ecclestone, whose claims that the unrest had nothing to do with F1 fooled nobody.

The race provoked popular protests because it is funded by and used as a propaganda tool by the country's royal family.

This was confirmed on Saturday when the Crown Prince of Bahrain arrived on the scene to denounce all protesters as "extremists" and say the unrest is just like the London Riots (democracy and flat screen TVs are precisely the same thing, apparently).

Most people could not claim with a straight face that the race has nothing to do with politics when he is prepared to stand next to the heir apparent of the Kingdom of Bahrain while he describes the race as "a force for good".

But Ecclestone is not most people. His ruthlessness and refusal to bow to pressure have undoubtedly played a major part in his enormous success and remarkable longevity (he is 81).

Yet the Bahrain fiasco - albeit in extreme circumstances - was indicative of the uneasy path on which he has taken the sport.

Quite apart from pandering to oppressive regimes, Ecclestone is prising F1 away from its fanbase.

The reasons for having it in countries like Bahrain and Abu Dhabi are obvious.

Filthy rich families bankroll the race, and organisers face few of the logistical or legal difficulties encountered in more traditional locales.

As a spectacle, however, these new races are desperately sterile.

It is like watching a football match played behind closed doors. Still recognisably the same sport, but completely devoid of the excitement and intimacy that makes it worth watching.

Imagine Real Madrid versus Barcelona. Not at the Bernabeu or Nou Camp, but in some half-empty, air-conditioned enormo-dome thousands of miles away.

You might still have Messi and Ronaldo, but you have lost the gladiatorial setting and the passion - and with it the drama.

F1 races can struggle for human interest since you go 70 laps without seeing a protagonist's face - so the surroundings and atmosphere are vital.

The scarlet-clad tifosi at Monza, the massed ranks at Silverstone, the luxury yachts in Monte Carlo and the sweeping grandeur of Spa.

These are the things that identify the races, and make them unmistakeably Italian, British, Monegasque or Belgian.

When you replace that with flat-pack circuits, giant run-off areas and sparsely-populated stands, you might as well be racing on the moon.

F1's quite deliberate attempt to divorce itself from its surroundings in Bahrain was the clearest example of this ongoing trend.

Were it not for the flags, the photos of Sunday's race could be from anywhere. The blandness and the impersonality of it all had Motorhead questioning why it was even interested.

Just another race at just another track. Nothing special or unique. No passion. Just cars looping endlessly around.

Like a modern luxury hotel, it is clean, sleek and obviously expensive - but it's just so... boring.

Even the recent attempt at a 'street circuit' in Valencia has fallen flat. It seems to have the worst of all words. There's no overtaking, nor is there any sense of closeness, as the track cuts a wide swathe through the generally unlovely Valencia docklands rather than the actual city streets.

Basically, you could move the event to Slough Trading Estate and nobody would notice.

Formula One is a sport made for television, but Ecclestone seems to be under the misapprehension that viewers do not need the unique flavour that should come from each host nation.

We do. Reduce any sport to its constituent parts (man kicks ball, man drives car in circles), and it is fundamentally boring. Context is king, and F1 is nothing without it.

Pretending the host nation has nothing to do with the race is not merely bad morality, it is also bad business.

View comments (0)