5 live F1 in Bahrain: UNIF1ED...One nation in celebration?
I left China with certain amount of trepidation as to what we would find when we got to Bahrain. The political situation in the country was obviously very unstable, but as a sports journalist and part of the travelling F1 contingent it’s not my job to pass opinion on a complex subject that I am only partially informed on. There are many people, especially in the British media, who have reported on the wider issues in Bahrain, but I will only ever report on things that I see and experience first-hand.
So how was it to work on the Bahrain Grand Prix?
From reading reports before getting to the country it was hard to know what awaited us. On arrival it was clear the terminal was organised well, with arrows directing incoming race personnel to the correct areas. Our visas were checked, stamped and authorised and we collected our bags and headed out into the searing midday sunshine.
One of the first things I saw was a giant billboard advertising the race. It stretched along the whole length of the airport terminal. The slogan 'UNIF1ED…one nation in celebration' clear for all to see. This was repeated on our way to the hotel where one of the buildings was covered with the same logo advertising the Grand Prix.
It's important for me to explain at this point that during my time in Bahrain I never once went looking to incidents that might have been a result of protesting; I made my way from the hotel to the circuit and back again every day and never went into the centre of Manama.
On the way to and from the circuit there was plenty of police presence and as the weekend progressed the numbers grew. There was a small police tank that we passed on one occasion, parked by the side of the road. On the day of the race itself it passed us with lights flashing, heading towards the university.
The first report of any trouble was when I arrived at the circuit on Thursday morning. I spoke to Team Manager Andy Stevenson from Force India and he explained that the team were involved in an incident the night before (now well documented) and they were visibly shaken from the experience.
Team Principal Vijay Mallya was not present at this race so decisions were left to Deputy Team Principle Robert Fernley. He decided that the team's safety and comfort was more important than the second practice session, so they left the paddock ahead the afternoon session. This isn’t something that happens on a regular basis.
Force India and F1 were not targeted directly; it was just a case of their car being in the wrong place at the wrong time. No-one was hurt, and although two members of the team asked to go home as a direct result of the incident, it is important to keep this one event in perspective. Fifteen-hundred personnel and media travel to a Grand Prix weekend and, for the most part, these people saw very little unrest.
As for the race itself, standing on the grid was a little nerve-wracking. Just before I went to get my kit a rumour passed through the paddock saying a tweet had suggested an incident would take place while the teams prepared for the race. If that had happened then journalists lucky enough to be in the dream position of being on the starting grid would have been in the middle of any trouble.
It flashed through my mind that this was a fairly exposed place to be - but then I just got on with bringing you the best broadcast I possibly could. If we were to come all this way and go through all the speculation and news headlines then I wanted it to be for a reason. My grid walk passed off without incident and the drivers looked just as relieved as me to let the racing speak for itself.
As we returned from the track this evening it was clear to see protests had taken place. There were scorch marks on the roads and huge barbed wire fences erected around some of the villages. In any country where barbed wire and tanks are used to enforce order, you know there are problems. It has certainly been an education being here but I have to admit I am looking forward to coming home. Whether it was right for this race to happen or not is another question though; and one that I feel is best left to you to decide.
Jennie Gow is 5 live Formula 1's pit lane reporter. You can follow her on Twitter at @jenniegow.
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