In light of recent events at the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, let’s turn back the clock ten years. During the build-up of the 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix, Force India mechanics fled the country after a petrol bomb attack.
F1 returned to Bahrain in 2012 after a one year hiatus, due to civil unrest. This time around, things were not much better for the sport. Multiple protests broke out across the country. Pro-democracy demonstrators carried anti-F1 slogans. They claimed the Bahraini government was trying to divert the world’s attention from its human rights issues with the Grand Prix.
The build-up of the race was dominated by the fear that the civil unrest could affect the safety of everyone in the paddock, it turned out to be the case.
On Thursday, April 19, four Force India mechanics were traveling in a 4×4 back to the hotel when they encountered an impromptu protest. A petrol bomb was hurled over the top of their car and exploded. There were reports that the mechanics were exposed to tear gas from the police amidst the clash. Thankfully, there were no injuries. After the event, all four mechanics appeared to be emotional, upset and angry at the organizers. Two Force India mechanics elected to fly back to the UK immediately, due to fear for their safety. The officials claimed that the attack was not aimed at F1, but rather the police.
Deputy Team Principal Bob Fernley said: “We sympathize with their positions, their families and we make sure it happens. But the team itself is behind the program for Bahrain. There are no issues as far as we are concerned.”
Driver Nico Hulkenberg was openly upset about the situation.
“We should not be put in this situation,” he said. “It was not right that the team members have to fear for their safety.”
The petrol bomb attack quickly made headlines around the world on CNN, BBC, Reuters and Independent.
On the Friday, Force India skipped FP2, due to fear of traveling back to Manama after dark. Friday afternoon prayers saw of the largest organized demonstrations in Bahrain and throughout the Arab Spring. Some other teams also expressed their intention to run a limited FP2 program for the same reason.
Members of the Sauber team also reported similar encounters. A group of masked men approached their minibus at a roadblock. Fortunately, their driver pulled away. A journalist saw police fire tear gas at protesters on his way back to the hotel. Porsche Supercup team MRS Racing also withdrew from the event, because they could not ensure the safety of their staff.
Will it Happen Again?
Fast forward to 2022, we are witnessing the same level of concern among team members at Jeddah. The Houthi rebels have attacked two Aramco oil refining facilities in the past week, with one just 11km away from the circuit. Many team members posted on their social handles stating it was a “joke” to host the race in the middle of a warzone. There was a four-hour meeting after FP2 between drivers and team principals about the situation. However, there was no Formula 2 personnel at the meeting.
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