Ferraris Fernando Alonso and five other Formula One drivers gave no reply when asked at a Chinese Grand Prix news conference whether they might have any moral difficulty racing in Bahrain next week.
They were not alone on Thursday,with most others also swerving away from any public comment on the sensitive subject of competing in the Gulf kingdom against a backdrop of political unrest and violence. With some of the teams known to be unhappy about going to Bahrain,nobody wanted to inflame the situation by taking a stance. It was Red Bulls plain-talking Australian Mark Webber who filled the silence,pre-empting any questions by looking around and opening with the words So. Bahrain? he asked.
The subject of that race,cancelled last year due to a bloody crackdown condemned by human rights activists who have branded this years event as a tool of repression,has hung over the season and provided the main topic of conversation in the Shanghai paddock.
Ultimately it is a car race. There are a hell of a lot of people in the world who dont have a clue there is a Grand Prix in Bahrain next weekend so lets not get too wrapped up in our own bubble about how important it is, said Webber,choosing his words slowly and carefully. Webber held up no hope for the drivers having any say in the matter. They would discuss it in their briefing,said the Australian,but that would achieve nothing. All the talk and speculation had been distracting, he added. Ultimately,we are all human. We have morals. We have ways we see things, said Webber who was a rare voice speaking out against the race last year when more than 30 people died in a crushing of pro-democracy protests led by mostly Shiite demonstrators seeking more say in government.
I have tried to watch the news to get the most balanced view that I can possibly get without getting too corrupted by false information, continued the 35-year-old.
I want to race. That is what I would like to go there and do. But saying that you cannot ignore the fact that all of us,in the backs of our minds,want it to go down smoothly and dont want it to be involved in the unrest. We want the people out there to support our race. That is why it is so sensitive, said Webber. While Formula One wants to make friends and win new audiences,it has not shown much concern in the past about where it races,travelling to Grand Prix in South Africa under Apartheid and Argentina during the rule by military junta in the 1980s and routinely following the money.