• Bahrain unrest

The deafening silence

Martin Williamson February 22, 2011
Jean Todt ...went AWOL at a time leadership was needed © Sutton Images

In the aftermath of the decision that the political environment in Bahrain made it impossible to stage the grand prix there next month, questions have to be asked about the invisibility of the FIA and Jean Todt, its president, as the situation developed.

Pretty much the only official lead came from Bernie Ecclestone, and even then his initial comments last week showed him to be worryingly out of touch with the real world.

But Todt was nowhere to be found. He made one public utterance - last Wednesday - saying there was no need to overreact and there was "no reason to have unnecessary concern". That was before the violence escalated that night, but even so it was apparent to almost everyone else this was already a very serious situation.

After that there was silence. The teams were pretty much left to fend for themselves, eventually making an announcement they were sure Ecclestone and the FIA would put their safety first. If they believed that they showed more faith in their sport's leadership than most others.

Todt's public lack of leadership was lamentable. Only after the race was scrapped did the FIA finally issue a limp, bland and far-too-late press release.

It does raise questions as to his exact role if it's not to take charge in a time of crisis. He might have been expected to head to Barcelona to sound out the teams, or if the race was to proceed to convince them all was well. Or, failing that, to travel to Bahrain to see the situation for himself.

It is worth noting, as many have, that Todt has links to the Bahrain royal family even though there are no suggestions that influenced his approach to the affair.

The Crown Prince - the man Ecclestone insisted had the final say on whether the race would happen - is a shareholder in the GP2 team owned by Todt's son. Furthermore, the king's second son happens to be a member of the FIA's World Motor Sports Council and was credited with playing a key role in Todt's election in 2008.

Ecclestone's refusal to call off the race and willingness to leave it all up to the royals is at least pragmatic. By leaving the decision to them he avoided huge financial liabilities which he would have incurred had he made the call.

There was also the matter of insurance for the Formula One roadshow. With governments stating travel to the state was inadvisable, it is unlikely anyone would have been willing to provide cover to the teams and media, and that in itself would have made the grand prix impossible to stage.

Even in the murky world of Formula One, the behaviour of those charged with guarding the credibility of the sport have not had a good week.