We got our first taste of things to come when the world-famous Dakar rally was forced to cancel in 2008 and later relocate from North Africa to South America due to threats from al-Qaeda. But what we hoped would have been an isolated occurrence is re-emerging as a serious consideration for racing series the world over.
The start of the 2011 Formula One season was due to get underway in Bahrain on March 13, but protests in the gulf state forced its cancellation and the delay of the season's start, which only took place this past weekend in Australia. (The GP2 Asia series was also forced to cancel its Bahrain races in February and March.) The question is, will the cancellations in Bahrain emerge as an exception, or the new rule? Follow the jump to read on....
[Image: Adam Jan/AFP]
Bahrain's isn't the only F1 Grand Prix held in the Middle East, where citizens have been taking to the streets in revolution against their rulers. The other race in the region, however, is in Abu Dhabi, which has been largely exempt from the political upheaval. Protests there have been limited to petitions and letter-writing campaigns – which didn't prove to be an obstacle for the FIA GT1 World Championship that held its season-opener there without incident just this past weekend.
Most of the other major international racing series – including IndyCars, DTM, the Le Mans Series and the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup – don't have Middle Eastern or North African races on their calendars. The World Touring Car Championship raced in Morocco the past two years, where some protests have been taking place, however, the race was dropped earlier this month by the FIA's World Motor Sport Council when the promoter failed to secure sufficient financial backing.
Political unrest in the region is perhaps taking its largest toll – in the context of motor racing, at least – in Jordan, where a stage in the World Rally Championship is scheduled to take place in April. Protests there against the Hashemite royal family have been largely peaceful. However, to get there, teams have traditionally gone through Syria, where clashes between protesters and military forces have turned violent – even lethal. While the Jordan Rally is likely to go ahead (at least as a round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship), reports indicate that international teams may opt to sit it out – if not for security reasons, then as a measure of solidarity with the protesters.