Speaking to journalists, Damon Hill, former world champion, called on the FIA President Jean Todt to have a clear stance regarding the race:
Jean Todt’s approach has been to say nothing, because otherwise you’re being critical, and I think that is a mistake. Because he’s being used, or the sport is being perceived as being used, by its engagement in the economy and the reputation of the country.
He’s not said anything that has distanced the sport from things that it would find distasteful and upsetting, which I believe everyone in the sport would like to do.
The vast majority of people in the sport would like to say we don’t want to come here to make life worse for people. We would like you to enjoy Formula One. It has lots of positive things to offer. But please don’t, on our behalf, round people up and brutalise them. I don’t see that being political. It’s more ethical than political.
I would not want to go to Bahrain if people are going to be treated extra bad just so a race can go ahead. What we don’t want to have is F1 being responsible for making life worse for people. The question is whether F1, by going to Bahrain, is actually going to enable or further brutal repression.
It’s none of my business what goes on in Bahrain, in many ways. But it is if I’m involved in the sport and that’s my life, and the sport is going to Bahrain.
My view is the sport, and the governing body of the sport, should ensure they’re not being hijacked for the wrong reasons. And I’m not entirely sure they’ve cleared up that point, I have to say
The messages I’m getting from various people in the opposition – and there have been pretty regular street protest over the past three weeks – is that the F1 race will be more of a focus than it was last year. That’s what they anticipate happening.
The quotes [Ecclestone] came out with is that everything will be fine. I just do not buy that. It is not the same evidence that I am hearing. Opinion is not difficult to come by in Bahrain saying either that the race should not go ahead and, if it does, there will be trouble.
If anything happens it will be a tragedy for all concerned. I hope in the next few days that people will understand that words do have an impact.
Bahrain government’s official spokesperson and Information Minister Sameera Rajab criticised Hill, telling the Gulf Daily News:
He (Hill) should see what’s going on in Bahrain for himself, rather than go with what those who have an agenda against Bahrain say.
Coming to Bahrain and seeing what’s going on is better than making statements sitting thousands of miles away.