Damon Hill believes that Formula 1 should reconsider the Bahrain Grand Prix, just a few months after giving his full support to the event.
The former World Champion visited Bahrain late last year and delivered a full endorsement of the benefits of the grand prix taking place. However, with troubles still ongoing in the Gulf state just a few weeks before the scheduled race, he now thinks the sport's bosses should have second thoughts about the race taking place.
"What we must put above all else is what will be the penalty in terms of human cost if the race goes ahead," he told British newspaper The Guardian. "It would be a bad state of affairs, and bad for Formula 1, to be seen to be enforcing martial law in order to hold the race. That is not what this sport should be about. Looking at it today, you'd have to say that [the race] could be creating more problems than it's solving."
Hill is well aware of his stance last year, but thinks ongoing events there – which have included gasoline bomb attacks on police cars this week and protests in 20 villages across Bahrain yesterday – have changed the picture.
"Things are different now," he continued. "The protests have not abated and may even have become more determined and calculated. It is a worrying state of affairs."
He added: "The view I gave after returning from the visit last year was based on my understanding of several factors; the substantial economic significance of the GP for Bahrain; that the report on the April riots condemned the actions of the police and security forces, and that both sides were to take part in meaningful dialogue to resolve the problems peacefully. Under those conditions, one could imagine the GP being a great boost for a Bahrain on the road to recovery.
"However, with under three weeks to go, conditions do not seem to have improved, judging by the reports in our European newspapers, social media and on Al Jazeera TV. The recent meeting to garner support for the race as a unifying event was troubling insofar as it tried to represent the rioting in Bahrain as the result of bad press reporting and as a 'youth' issue.
"Promoting the race as 'Uniting Bahrain', whilst a laudable ambition, might be elevating F1 beyond even its own prodigious powers. I'm just saying we have to tread carefully.
"I hope the FIA are considering the implications of this fully and that events in Bahrain are not seen as they are often described – as a bunch of thugs throwing Molotov cocktails –because that's a gross simplification. If they believe that, they ought to be more wary. You don't get 100,000 people risking their lives in protest for nothing."
The FIA has so far not commented on the Bahrain situation, and Hill believes that it is only right that, if F1 does go to the event, that its stance is made clear.
"If we go, we all go," he said. "But there is obviously still a great deal of pain, anger and tension in Bahrain. It would be better for F1 to make it clear that it properly understands this, and that it wants only the best for all Bahrain, or whatever country it visits. I think F1 is sailing very close to this limit.
"But there is an even more troubling thought, which is this: Is F1 playing brinkmanship for purely financial reasons while people are putting their lives in peril to protest against this event?