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Fri 6 Apr 2012 09:24 AM

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Former F1 champ urges Bahrain race rethink

Damon Hill calls on F1 bosses to reconsider going ahead with this month's Grand Prix

Former F1 champ urges Bahrain race rethink
Former F1 world champion Damon Hill.

Former world champion Damon Hill has called on Formula 1 bosses to reconsider going ahead with this month's controversial Bahrain Grand Prix and warned that the sport's image could suffer if the race is held.

The 1996 champion had previously supported the race after taking part in a fact-finding visit to Bahrain in December last year.

But he told the Guardian he now felt a re-think was necessary for the event that was cancelled in 2011 following prolonged civil unrest that some reports claimed more than 40 lives.

Hill said: "What we must put above all else is what will be the penalty, in terms of human cost, if the race goes ahead?

"It would be a bad state of affairs, bad for F1, to be seen to be enforcing martial law to hold the race."

Hill added that he was worried that the race might create more problems than it solved if it went ahead as scheduled on April 22, a week after the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai.

Human rights activists and opposition groups in Bahrain, where unrest has continued daily, have called for the race to be cancelled again.

Hill explained: "Looking at it today, you'd have to say that it could be creating more problems than it's solving.

"The protests have not abated and may even have become more determined and calculated. It is a worrying state of affairs."

Bahrain race organisers held a lunch in London last week at which they argued that holding the grand prix would have an important unifying role in their strife-torn country.

And F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone said he has no doubts about going ahead, after persuading several teams - including Red Bull, McLaren, Mercedes and Williams - to send senior representatives to the lunch.

But Hill said: "The view I gave after returning from the visit last year was based on my understanding of several factors - the substantial economic significance of the GP for Bahrain; that the report on the riots condemned the actions of the police and security forces, and that both sides were to take part in meaningful dialogue to resolve the problems peacefully.

"Under those conditions one could imagine the GP being a great fillip for a Bahrain on the road to recovery. However, with under three weeks to go, conditions do not seem to have improved, judging by the reports in our European newspapers, social media and on Al Jazeera TV.

"I'm just saying we have to tread carefully. I hope 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.

"You don't get 100,000 people risking their lives in protest for nothing..."

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Betsy B Mathieson 8 years ago

Oh dear Damon, what some people will do to get back into the headlines!
THe international media are still not reporting a balanced accurate picture of the true situation in Bahrain. I have lived here for 32 years and have never felt afraid, even when pregnant during the scud missile fuelled Gulf War. What does scare me is how easily lies and inaccuracies are swallowed by certain media and individuals, without even bothering to substantiate the claims.
Your credibility has just taken a nose dive and let's be clear that these 'rioters' ARE just a bunch of yobs throwing molotov cocktails at unarmed police and civilians on a daily basis. You need to speak to HMA Ambassador to Bahrain and to Dominic Grieve, UK Attorney General who visited Bahrain very recently. They have both witnessed the true situation out here and have recongised the 'yob gangs' who are terrorising the residents of Bahrain on a daily basis. F1 2012 will reunite Bahrain and help us move forward.

resident 8 years ago

I hope that Mr Hill is making these comments with informed, balance information from all sides. From the sources mentioned in the article it is hardly balanced reporting. Internaltional media giving a balanced arguement. Dont think so. Yet again un informed interference from the west. You people never learn.

Dunhill Bahrain 8 years ago

Now the citizens of Bahrain became "yob gangs" and you, the expat, is the resident terrorized by a punch of "rioters". Shame on you if you ignore the human rights; shame on you if you ignore the poison gases; shame on you if you deny the mass punishments and killings on streets as well as in security places; shame on you if after living in Bahrain for 32 years you deny the obvious discrimination; shame on you if you are attacking the citizens of a country you and other expats enjoying the tax-free earnings and a life standard that certainly missing in your home country; shame on you to support a government with no mercy or any tendency of caring to poor citizens. You shall go and visit the small villages to feel the huge gap between the poor Bahraini and the lavish life of the ruling family and those associated with them. Just a little of conscious, dignity and honor is the fine line between human race and animals! What is funny: the westerners are still talking about human rights!!

Terence Lorens 8 years ago

Betsy, as a foreigner, you are insulated from the reality of the situation and are only exposed to the official party line which is far from the truth.

To hold the F1 races in a country where there is an oppression of the majority is a shame indeed.

Betsy B Mathieson 8 years ago

Terence, first of all I am not a foreigner, I have Bahraini nationality. Secondly the majority are NOT being oppressed. The majority are peace loving, warm hearted people whose love for each other has been the glue that has bound them together in harmony for hundreds of years. I live on the edge of a village where there are daily molotov attacks & my decent hard working Shia friends who live inside that village are trapped there by thugs. The majority of Shia's want a return to a united, harmonious existence where sectarianism was unheard of & where human rights applies to ALL citizens equally. Bahrain has more freedoms & more reforms than any other ME country & HM the King brought those about VOLUNTARILY when he came to power 11 years ago. At that time other Arab leaders thought he was crazy to offer such freedoms & rights. He is a visionary, moderate leader who has shown utmost restraint when dealing with criminals & terrorists & he recognises the need for change. Peacefully.