x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

McLaren team principal committed to Bahrain Grand Prix

Martin Whitmarsh says none of his staff at McLaren have any fears of participating in the race even as other teams express concern over the political situation in the Kingdom.

Martin Whitmarsh, the McLaren Formula One team principal, reckons it is more dangerous to drive in Brazil than Bahrain. Aly Song Pool / EPA
Martin Whitmarsh, the McLaren Formula One team principal, reckons it is more dangerous to drive in Brazil than Bahrain. Aly Song Pool / EPA

Martin Whitmarsh, the McLaren team principal, believes going to Bahrain next week will be far less dangerous than heading to Brazil.

The majority of teams often beef up their security through the course of the weekend in Sao Paulo which is renowned for its gun crime.

Not a race passes in Brazil without stories of team personnel or media being held up and robbed or carjacked, as nearly occurred with Jenson Button in 2010.

It was only by the quick-thinking actions of his highly-trained police driver, who used their reinforced car as a battering ram to evade the armed gang, that ensured Button escaped unharmed.

However, Whitmarsh has confirmed his team will not be employing any special security measures, unlike many of their rivals.

That is despite threats of violence from protest groups, and with daily reports of running battles between police and protesters.

The latest incident occurred yesterday, with claims a 15-year-old boy is in intensive care after being shot by riot police who used live rounds as thousands of people joined a funeral procession.

Despite the seemingly obvious danger posed to team personnel, Whitmarsh said: "We travel to Brazil, a whole variety of places.

"We're mindful of the security we have to take to some of the venues we go to, and we're not always as comfortable as we'd like to be, but we don't decide that.

"Right now we haven't taken any special measures [for Bahrain], although we are always cautious and mindful of the safety of our team."

Asked as to why he adopted such a position, in particular given what happened to Button in Brazil, Whitmarsh added: "At the time there was a real and serious threat to individuals.

"We've seen it time and again in Brazil. We took what measures we thought were appropriate there.

"At the moment there are clearly issues in Bahrain, but we don't believe there are individual threats to any of us that are part of the team."

When it was pointed out to Whitmarsh he could not know for certain, he added: "I think I used the word 'believe', but none of us know.

"None of us know what's going to happen as we try to get back into Shanghai tonight.

"The way my driver is driving it's more dangerous than driving round Brazil!"

Whitmarsh's position on Bahrain comes at a time when the McLaren Group are 50 per cent owned by the Kingdom's Mumtalakat Holding Company.

He confirmed none of his 60-strong staff have expressed a desire not to travel to Bahrain.

"We're a team that's very committed to doing what we're doing," said Whitmarsh.

"But forget Bahrain. If someone came to me and said they didn't want to go to China, then they're best not going.

"You don't go racing unless you want to come racing. It's no different if anyone in the team didn't want to go to any race, then they wouldn't go to that race.

"Of course, individuals are contracted, but they also have to be motivated to be there.

"If someone doesn't want to go racing with the team any more then they shouldn't be there, now what that means contractually, we'll sit down and talk to them, but people have to want to be there."

Naturally, it is not just about McLaren, but the whole F1 circus that incorporates around 1,500 people.

Quizzed as to why they should be put through the worry and stress of wondering what could happen in Bahrain over the course of the week, Whitmarsh stood firm.

"We can ask that question of lots of the venues we go to," said Whitmarsh.

"There is a degree of stress in going to Brazil and getting in and out safely. There is a degree of stress going to India.

"Ultimately we sign up for a world championship. There are 20 rounds, we expect to go there and compete, and that's what we do.

"Right now there's a golf tournament going on [in Bahrain], there's been an airshow, all without commotion.

"But we don't know what's going to happen even here today or tomorrow."