On the day when relations between the UK and Russia sunk to a low not seen since the end of the cold war, the British government yesterday relented to calls for a public inquiry into the death of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko,
As I wrote yesterday, the voices expressing concern over F1 and Sochi will grow louder in the coming days. Today a number of the political choir members begin the warm up which precedes the full chorus as questions begin to be asked.
There is still plenty of ‘no comments’ around at present, similar to those TJ13 received from the UK Prime Minister’s office.
TJ13’s stance on the ‘racing in Russia’ question, as posted in yesterday’s article, is that that F1 should unite around article 1 and refuse to be used for political purposes. This provides everyone with an easy ‘out’, though the thought of losing a reported $60m from Russia and Putin will be causing Ecclestone no end of sleepless nights.
Deep down, even Bernie Ecclestone knows to take the show to Russia, do a grid walk meet and greet with Putin and his cronies whilst the TV pictures beam this love in across the world to billions of eyeballs is an untenable proposition. Yet it’s about who blinks first. Can Bernie find a way to be ‘prevented’ from taking F1 to Russia and still get paid?
Though this week, the 83 year old F1 supremo said, “we’ve got a contract…. we’re going”.
Presently the reasons being suggested as to why F1 should ‘do the right thing’ and call off the race in Russia resemble a smorgasbord of opinion.
Ex-Foreign Office minister, MP David Davis, calls for the race to be abandoned as a punishment/withholding of privileges from Putin.
“If Russia continues as they have been doing, then the grand prix is one of many things that they should be denied.” Davis adds, “The morally proper thing to do is put the race on hold”
It appears the opposition to this Formula 1 race is better organised than for Bahrain 2012. Then the calls to abandon the race only entered the public domain in the week before the race as last minute private members motions of protest were lodged and on the whole ignored.
The Russian Grand Prix is three months ahead, and in that time the evidence of all the circumstances around the shooting down of flight MH17 will grow much stronger.
Davis refers to matter of Bahrain 2012 and the political fall-out Formula 1 had to take back then. It is almost certain Vodafone withdrew from their contract with McLaren one year early because they were refused the request to remove their logo’s from the MP4-27 which competed that year.
In 2013, the Vodafone name was not in evidence on the McLaren car at the Bahrain GP.
“F1 already had a problem in the past with Bahrain”, says Davis. “Whilst I’m not particularly in favour of cancelling sports events at the drop of a hat, I think that Formula One should reflect the global outrage. It would be an important and appropriate response to cancel the race,” Davis reflects.
Sir Menzies Campbell, of the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, demanded there be an “assessment of the suitability” of Russia to stage the race. The former Lib Dem leader added, “Public opinion all over the world will find it difficult to accept Mr Putin taking all the plaudits for this grand prix in Russia and, no doubt, presenting the prizes.”
Dr Andrew Foxall, director of the Russian Studies Centre pragmatically comments that F1 and morality have never been synonymous. “Formula One is not, and never has been, an organisation known for morality,” adding yet “there are a host of reasons why this race should not go ahead”. One of those he suggests is that this race will represent a “tacit approval” of Putin’s regime – something the politicians are more likely to care about.
F1 writer Joe Saward, writes today about why the Russian GP should be cancelled. His position is interesting particularly since he was dubbed ‘Coffee Shop Joe’ having been duped by Bahraini government ‘plants’ pretending to be ‘normal’ Bahraini’s whilst drinking coffee in Starbucks in Manama during the 2012 Bahrain event.
Joe argues that since F1 is primarily funded by countries with a Western ‘liberal’ view of Russia and that perception is everything, why fight the negative publicity F1 will undoubtedly receive.
“If there is the perception among these people that Russia is the bad guy, then it is wise not to risk damaging the sport by insisting on doing something that people think is wrong. Perception is reality whether the perception be true or not. F1 and the FIA ought to have learned that lesson over Bahrain”.
Indeed, there are many sponsors who may not wish to be associated with a sporting event in Russia at present, so why upset them by forcing them to display their logos on the F1 cars?
The sponsors will eventually vote with their feet, and as with Bahrain 2012, the hospitality suites at the circuit will be tented versions of a ghost town.
The 28 headed chicken that is the EU head of state forum, managed to agree a range of ‘level 3’ sanctions against Russia yesterday; this is to be fleshed out and voted upon on Thursday. One of the measures includes the prohibiting the provision of or sharing with Russia, ‘sensitive technologies”.
How this is fleshed out, may determine whether a ban on F1 teams taking their highly sophisticated prototype racing automobiles to Russia becomes a matter of course for the European governments with F1 businesses resident within their jurisdiction.
The rights and wrongs of each conflict zone across the globe have two sides to every story. Yet F1 should not be involved in politics, but it is impossible for the racing circus to pitch it’s big top in the beach side resort of Sochi without being used for political capital by Russia.
Whilst MH17 is being used by all sides of the political spectrum as an opportunity to score points against others, what is certain is that this commercial airliner was blasted out of the sky’s by a piece of hardware few governments across the world have access to.
298 people were brutally killed, some most likely alive for some time after the missile struck. The geopolitical shockwaves from this event have yet to be fully felt.
This was no hand held bazooka type weapon used for knocking out helicopters in Hollywood action movies, it was in effect a short range ballistic missile, loaded with highly sophisticated technology.
1000’s of airliners fly across the conflict zones or aggressive nations of the world every day. These include North Korea, Israel and Ethiopia, PikeIraq, Syria, Lybia, Mali, Congo, Kenya, Yemen, Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Syria, Iran and Afghanistan.
Yet we don’t see aircraft obliterated from the sky on even an infrequent basis. The reason is simple, the number of weapons with this capability is limited (you can’t unwittingly lose one) and the training required to successfully launch one and hit the target usually requires an officer of some years experience.
So the metaphorical ‘finger on the button’ was definitely not one from a posse of poorly educated and disenfranchised farmers and miners.
Thus, for a world leader to contemplate allowing such a weapon to be available in the kind of conflict which is taking place in the Eastern Ukraine, demonstrates a stratospheric lack of judgement – verging on certifiable lunacy.
F1 cannot parade itself with Putin, whether he is a lamentable fool or maniac. This kind of rhetoric describing the Russian president will become normative over the coming weeks in the Western media and the longer it takes for F1 to call off their sojourn in Sochi, the more ridiculous the sport will look.
The FIA, the world motorsport governing body, via an unnamed spokesperson, today stated it “does not mix politics and sport”. This already is sounding banal and as the MH17 tale continues to run – and run it will for weeks.
It maybe that the highly intelligent individuals in F1 have not yet fully connected all the dots on this topic. Many of these people are family folk and we respect them as first as individuals and despite their genius.
Hopefully, those with gravitas within our sport will come to the conclusion soon that traipsing off to go racing in Russia, is no longer a bright idea.
It would be better if Formula 1 did the ‘right thing’ – just for once – before its hand is forced.