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GP Week : Issue 181
FIA president Jean Todt has been heavily criticized for not having made an appearance at the controversial Bahrain Grand Prix, with critics accusing him of “electioneering” even as the sport and all those associated with it arrived in the Gulf nation against a backdrop of pro-democracy protests. “Just as Formula One cries out for leadership there is complete silence from the FIA's Paris headquarters,” Paul Weaver wrote in ‘The Guardian’ last week. “The FIA, an often much respected ruling body, which is responsible for the extreme vigilance with which the safety of motoring is now observed, on roads as well as racetracks, is impotent in its most urgent hour.” But critics of the FIA president – some of whom accused him of being overly concerned with his personal safety – have neglected to mention that Todt’s recent travels have included publicity- free visits to Syria and Iraq, two countries currently considerably more tumultuous than the Kingdom of Bahrain. Todt, who led Ferrari during the Maranello-based squad’s most successful spell, was elected FIA president in 2009 and his four-year term is set to expire later this year. During his 2009 election campaign the Frenchman promised to visit all 135 countries which host an FIA member club, and it is that promise which has been a contributing factor to Todt’s low public profile, both in Bahrain last weekend and on the F1 calendar as a whole. While Max Mosley, his predecessor at the FIA, spent his presidency rubbing shoulders with the rich and the powerful, the kings and the ministers, on Formula One grids around the world, Todt has instead been flying to such varied countries as Kazakhstan, Iraq, and Indonesia to promote motorsport and initiatives including but not limited to the FIA’s Action for Road Safety campaign, a ten-year effort aimed at reducing global road deaths in concert with the United Nations’ Decade of Action for Road Safety. Todt’s low-profile approach to the presidency has not been well-received by some in the F1 paddock, but the Frenchman’s efforts to divide his attentions equally between the FIA’s many championships has proved popular elsewhere. Under Todt’s helmsmanship the FIA has entered into a previously unthinkable cooperative relationship with the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, with the two bodies working together to bring World Championship status back to the world of endurance racing after a multi-year hiatus. The Frenchman has also overseen the introduction of a global electric racing championship – Formula E, which is due to launch in 2014 – on-going Concorde Agreement negotiations with Formula One Management, and the establishment of a number of key F1 technical developments, not least the introduction of the drag reduction system and the use of thermal energy recovery systems in concert with the 2014 engine specification change. F1 >>> NEWS TODT – OUR MAN (NOT IN) MANAMA The Bahrain Grand Prix, probably Formula One’s most controversial race, passed largely without incident despite threats of disruption by some opposition groups one year after pro-democracy unrest overshadowed events on track. The February 14 Youth Coalition, a group separate from the main al-Wefaq opposition bloc, launched what they called the “Volcanic Flames” campaign in the build-up to the race. The group reportedly claimed responsibility for a series of explosions in the weeks preceding the grand prix with the stated aim of disrupting activity in Manama’s financial centre to publicise their opposition to the small island’s flagship international event. But despite reports of protests and nightly clashes in outlying villages around the desert Kingdom, Formula One carried on as normal. There was no repeat of last year’s incident which saw some members of the Force India team run into the aftermath of a clash between protesters and police that led to a Molotov cocktail landing near the vehicle they were travelling in. The atmosphere both inside and outside of the paddock seemed far calmer, with the main opposition group welcoming the race, which they acknowledged was an opportunity to draw the global media spotlight to their demands for democratic reform in the country. “I am calling on people to share peaceful protests to send a message to the world about our demand for peaceful democratic reform,” Sheikh Ali Salman, al-Wefaq secretary general, told Reuters in the build-up to the race. “I am against violence. Our protest is to take place today, tomorrow and on Friday. It is not against the race itself.” Talk in the paddock and in the team media sessions focused squarely on the racing, presenting a stark contrast to the agenda one year ago, which saw the majority of reports from Bahrain focus on the protests, with the on-track action reduced to a sub-plot. “It would be nice to see some reporting on the race,” Ecclestone said in Bahrain in his own inimitable style. “I mean, I think anyone who really wants to see and talk about human rights should go to Syria. There’re plenty of places in the world where you can go – like Egypt – where they’ve gotten rid of dictators and put democracy in. And now there’s more trouble!” BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX PASSES PEACEFULLY 10 GPWEEK.com // 10 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: