Fast Cars & Dodgy Regimes

17 Apr

This post takes a little bit of a sideways step away from nuclear history and teaching towards…motor racing?

I’ve enjoyed motorsport since I was a kid and – depsite the ups and downs, the dismal years, and the dodgy politics – maintain a keen interest in Formula One. The hot debate within F1 circles at the moment is over the upcoming Bahrain Grand Prix. Due to the situation in Bahrain, the GP was cancelled last year, very much the right move under the circumstances. People were losing their lives as they protested for greater political freedom, a situation where the sight of a multi-billion pound circus parading around town, flashing its wealth and political connections would be reprehensible, at best.

This year, the drama of “will they, won’t they?” continues. At the moment, the FIA and F1 supremo Bernie are saying yes, they will. What does this have to do with anything?

Well, F1 has found itself embroiled in political hot water (to desperately strain a metaphor) before. Back in the dark days of Apartheid, when South Africa was (at least publicly) an international pariah, F1 continued to race in that country. It was not until after the controversial 1985 race at Kyalami that F1 finally pulled out of South Africa.

That period was full of ‘interesting’ figures, some of whom continue to be forces in F1 to this day. Standing above them all was the demagogic head of the FIA, Jean-Marie Balestre who took the final decision to stop racing in South Africa. Also involved (perhaps more pertinently given the current situation with Bahrain) was Bernie Ecclestone. Ecclestone was then chief of the then mighty Brabham team (who would slide into insignificance over the next few years) and leader of the Formula One Constructors Association (FOCA.) In the previous few years, FOCA had been involved in a bitter battle with Balestre over various things to do with the running of the sport and the nature of F1 rules.

It’s a footnote, but perhaps an interesting one, that Ecclestone has been involved with F1’s adventures in regions controlled by dodgy regimes subject to civil unrest. It would be nice to think that, as an elderly man who has seen so much in his time, he might reflect upon his South African experiences and bring them to bear on the Bahrain situation. It is therefore quite sad – and tremendously damaging for the image and standing of the sport – that F1 continues to ignore its own history.

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