Formula One hit with shocking accusation on eve of 2022 season

·Sports Reporter
·4-min read
Formula One has been criticised by human rights groups for overlooking abuses in parts of the Middle East. (Photo by Lars Baron - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)
Formula One has been criticised by human rights groups for overlooking abuses in parts of the Middle East. (Photo by Lars Baron - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Human rights advocates have accused Formula One over overlooking abuses in the Middle East, where the 2022 season is set to begin in Bahrain this weekend.

F1 was widely praised after cancelling the Russian Grand Prix in response to the invasion of Ukraine, led by president Vladimir Putin.

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Bahrain was a controversial addition to the F1 calendar when it was first added in 2004, with the 2011 Bahrain GP cancelled amid protests against alleged human rights violations committed by the nation's government.

Australian former F1 driver Mark Webber was one of several to raise concerns about human rights in Bahrain, and in 2022 it remains a hot button issue for the sport.

Soon after the confirmation of a new 15-year agreement between the Bahrain International Circuit and F1, the sport's track record of racing in countries who have been accused of human rights abuses.

The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) sent a letter to F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali, accusing the sport of ignoring 'those who have been tortured and imprisoned'.

Penned by the Institute's director of advocacy Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, F1 were praised for their handling of the Russia situation, but had it pointed out that this move created a 'clear double standard' in the sport's approach to human rights.

“The Saudi-led coalition, which includes Bahrain and the UAE, continues to enjoy the renewal of F1 contracts despite their continued seven-year military campaign against Yemen, which is contributing to the creation of what the United Nations has termed the ‘world’s worst humanitarian disaster’,” the letter read.

The Institute has also contacted several drivers asking them to make public statements in order to hold governments to account for human rights abuses.

In a statement, F1 said the sport's goal was to bring people together, but did not acknowledge the core reasons behind the BIRD letter.

"Sports like Formula 1 are uniquely positioned to cross borders and cultures to bring countries and communities together to share the passion and excitement of incredible competition and achievement," the statement read.

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Seven-time F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton took up the cause during the 2021 season, taking the opportunity before the GP to address some of the concerns.

The Mercedes superstar said at the time that he considered it part of his responsibility as a leading F1 driver to call for more scrutiny to be applied to some of the venues they race at.

“As sports go to these places, they are duty bound to raise awareness for these issues,” Hamilton said.

“These places need scrutiny. Equal rights is a serious issue. If we are coming to these places, we need to be raising the profile of the situation.”

Hamilton is preparing for the first race of the season after the bitter disappointment of last year's season final in Abu Dhabi, in which he lost the championship under controversial circumstances to rival Max Verstappen.

A disillusioned Hamilton was no guarantee to return to the driver's seat in 2022 in the weeks after the race, but eventually confirmed he would be back to pursue a record eighth world title.

Lewis Hamilton was unsure if he would continue to race in F1 this year, but ultimately decided he belonged behind the wheel. (Photo by Karim SAHIB / AFP)
Lewis Hamilton was unsure if he would continue to race in F1 this year, but ultimately decided he belonged behind the wheel. (Photo by Karim SAHIB / AFP)

An F1 rules revolution has been implemented this season, with new designs subject to much speculation following the completion of pre-season testing.

Mercedes had turned up to the opening day of the final pre-season test with a bold new car, featuring dramatically shrunken sidepods that caught the eye and became the talk of the Formula One paddock.

Red Bull boss Christian Horner was quoted by German publication Auto, Motor und Sport as saying the design violated the 'spirit' of the regulations in comments Red Bull described as being incorrect.

Speaking at the official news conference at the Sakhir circuit on Friday, Horner emphasised that he had seen nothing legally problematic on the Mercedes.

"Comments have been quoted that certainly weren't made," said the Briton, who engaged in an at times bitter off-track rivalry with Mercedes rival Toto Wolff during last year's heated title battle between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton.

"I think that the car is obviously innovative, it's an interesting solution. As far as we're concerned the Mercedes car looks like it complies with the regulations."

With AAP

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