Archive: Bahrain

Paul di Resta 2012 Malaysia FP2

Twitter was alight with speculation during this afternoon’s qualifying session for the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Force India pulled out of yesterday’s second practice session due to safety concerns. Since then, the team’s cars have been conspicuously absent from the television coverage, which is centrally provided by Bernie Ecclestone’s company, Formula One Management.

Despite the fact that at one point the Force Indias had set the two fastest times during Q2, they were nowhere to be found on the coverage. Viewers noticed. Knowing the way Bernie Ecclestone operates, it’s not difficult to imagine that he has decided to retaliate against Force India for their decision not to run in practice 2.

F1 journalist Adam Hay-Nicholls let slip that FOM have been ordered in the past to avoid filming particular teams.

He expanded on this point, saying that the repercussions for Force India could go beyond today’s qualifying session, and even beyond the race weekend.

What disgusts me about this is that Force India withdrew from yesterday’s practice session for legitimate safety concerns. Four of their employees were caught up in a petrol bomb attack while going about their normal business in Bahrain. In these circumstances, it really is not surprising that the team would prefer to pack up early in order to avoid travelling in the dark.

If Bernie Ecclestone really has decided to exact his petty revenge on Force India for this, it makes me feel sick to my stomach. He is putting his narrow business interests ahead of lives.

The only clue Adam Hay-Nicholls has provided as to the identity of the other team that has been ‘censored’ by FOM is that the team no longer exists in the form it did at the time:

This suggests that the team was effectively put out of business, or that the owner of the team had to leave the sport. Clearly, a lack of television coverage does not help on that front.

On the one hand, it’s incredible to think that FOM think that the viewers are mugs not to notice this petty behaviour by not filming Force India. But it’s also worrying that FOM have done this before, and we haven’t noticed.

I am considering buying some Force India merchandise in a show of support. The way they are being pressurised into neglecting their own safety is absolutely disgusting.

There is no way I will buy any merchandise from the official Formula 1 website, but this Force India flag available at Grand Prix Legends looks quite good.

FIA statutes, article 1:

The FIA shall refrain from manifesting racial, political or religious discrimination in the course of its activities and from taking any action in this respect.

This is a principle that the FIA takes seriously. We know this, because the organisers of the Turkish Grand Prix got themselves into very hot water in 2006 after using the podium ceremony for political reasons. The race organisers were fined, and the circuit quietly saw out its contract.

Similarly in 1997, the organisers of the European Grand Prix, held at Jerez in Spain, were also found at fault after the mayor of Jerez, Pedro Pacheco, “disrupted the podium ceremony”. The then President of the FIA, Max Mosley, is said to have screamed at the Mayor, promising that Jerez would never hold an F1 race again. It hasn’t.

But the business model of F1 has meant that politicised events are increasingly inevitable. Almost every race in the F1 calendar (the British Grand Prix is a notable exception) receives some form of government backing. Even the new grands prix in the USA are receiving state help.

At moderate levels, this normally isn’t a problem. But Bernie Ecclestone’s pursuit of cash has led to him sealing deals with governments that are explicitly looking for a global platform and see Formula 1 as the perfect tool to provide it.

No prizes for guessing why countries such as Bahrain and China are keen to hold a grand prix. Some of them will be quite open about it: they want to put their countries on the map. Being part of one of the most popular sports in the world helps these countries gain legitimacy on the global stage.

Bernie Eccelestone’s approach is to chase the highest fees he can get. This has meant moving the sport further away from its core in Europe, particularly in the past 15 years. More and more races are taking place in Asia. The calendar has undergone significant evolution.

Of course, an increased spread of races across the globe is to be applauded. F1 is supposed to be a World Championship, after all.

But just now the balance just isn’t there. One race takes place in Australia. Eight take place in Europe. Two take place in North America. One takes place in South America. Eight take place in Asia. No races take place in Africa.

Among the newer races, a number have run into difficulties related to politics. I have already mentioned the problem in Turkey.

In Europe, the new Valencia Street Circuit was closely linked to Partido Popular, a political party. A news story posted on Formula1.com noted: “The deal is conditional on [Francisco] Camps winning local elections next month.” Since Francisco Camps left office last year, there have been murmurings that the Valencia Street Circuit will scale back its involvement in F1.

Malaysia and South Korea have similarly threatened to scale back their races after power changed hands in government.

Many of the newer races in the calendar are inherently political, either because they are vanity projects of local politicians, or global propaganda tools.

The tension between Bernie Ecclestone’s commercial needs, and the desire of the FIA to be apolitical, has been increasing for some time. This weekend in Bahrain, that tension is reaching breaking point.

Like most other Formula 1 fans, I have been spending part of this winter seriously considering whether it’s worth continuing watching every race live. With half of the races now being exclusively on Sky, for the first time in my life I need to seriously ask myself the question: I love F1, but enough to pay for it?

Early on, I decided that I would only consider buying the Sky Sports F1 channel if it would also broadcast GP2 and other support races. It is now known that the channel will broadcast GP2, GP3 and — surprisingly — IndyCar.

So it was time to crunch the numbers.

Buying the channel on Virgin Media

I am currently a Virgin Media customer. I have been ever since I moved into my current flat, in late November 2010. When I signed up, the contract was for a minimum of 18 months. This means that, no matter what, I can’t leave Virgin Media until June. By this time, six of this season’s races will already have taken place.

Thankfully, Virgin Media will be carrying Sky Sports F1. But there are a number of downsides. One is that the channel will not be broadcast in HD. But more importantly, the cost is downright prohibitive.

The only way to buy Sky Sports F1 is to buy the entire Sky Sports package. I need to buy five expensive channels just to watch one. There will probably be nothing on the other four channels that will interest me, particularly since IndyCar will now be broadcast on Sky Sports F1.

The cost of the Sky Sports package on Virgin Media is a ball-twisting £22.50 per month on top of whatever you are already paying. I already pay £38.90 per month to use Virgin Media.

There are other costs to add. There is the anticipated £1 per month hike in broadband fees. Then there is the cost of having a TiVo box. This will be necessary to make full use of the BBC’s red button options next year. The cost of having this box installed is £50 (in my calculation, I have spread this cost over 18 months). Then you must pay a further £3 per month for the privilege of using the damn thing.

All-in-all, the monthly cost of using Virgin Media would rise to £68.18 per month. This is just far too much.

When you consider that Sky Sports F1 will not be broadcast in HD on Virgin Media, therefore it would be better to watch the BBC’s ten live races. Essentially I would be paying over £20 per Sky-only race, and it won’t be in HD either. It is not even worth considering.

So it has been decided. Until at least the Canadian Grand Prix, I will have to rely on the BBC’s output alone. I will miss three live races.

Moving to Sky

When June comes, I will be able to move to Sky. I have crunched the numbers for this too. Thankfully, these numbers are significantly more promising. However, I am also wary as I have been told that Sky’s offers change quite frequently. But when I checked it out a few weeks ago, here is how the figures stacked up.

Sky Sports F1 HD is available to all Sky customers that buy the HD pack. So there is no need to buy the Sports pack. A TV package that includes Eurosport (a must, so that I can watch other motorsport events) can be bought for £25 per month. Add HD for £10.25 per month. Telephone line rental is £12.25, and you can get unlimited broadband for £7.50. An M&S voucher is also offered (again, I have spread this benefit over 18 months).

This comes to a grand total of £52.78 per month. This is an additional £13.88 per month on top of what I currently pay for Virgin Media. It’s still not ideal, but it is much more within reach.

In 2002, the F1 Digital+ venture cost £12 per race. Considering that Sky Sports F1 HD will probably offer even more than F1 Digital+ did, this actually seems like a bargain in comparison.

A side benefit is that I would also have access to channels that I currently do not on Virgin Media (such as Motors TV).

I have not yet decided if I will move to Sky in June. A lot of that depends on how I feel after the first six races.

What will I do in the meantime?

I have not yet decided if I will attempt to consume the races live. It seems to me sensible to wait for the BBC’s highlights of the Australian and Malaysian grands prix. Due to the time difference, the highlights will probably be broadcast at 2pm. So with a bit of care, it wouldn’t be too difficult to avoid spoilers. Of the first six races, the most tricky to avoid would be the Bahrain Grand Prix. But whether this race will even go ahead is under debate.

Of course, one possibility would be to listen to the excellent coverage on BBC Radio 5 Live, which will still be broadcasting all of the races live. It will be interesting to see how this year pans out for 5 Live’s F1 coverage. Their entire on-air team has been poached by Sky, so it will certainly be different.

However, 5 Live’s producer Jason Swales remains in place and is bound to do his usual great job. Commentary duties will be shared between James Allen and Jonathan Legard, two experienced commentators that know their stuff when it comes to F1.

It’s definitely a viable alternative. But whether it’s worth getting up at silly o’clock to listen to an early morning race without pictures is another matter. I will ponder it between now and Australia.