Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Macro Level Trends - Bahrain Grand Prix - Maintaining National Policy Steering & Traction

Since the initial uprising in Tunisia, followed by Egypt, most prevalent in Libya, the idealised potential outcome of the 'Arab Spring' as a force for change has been the centre-stage issue across the GCC and MENA.

How the actions of each country ultimately play-out toward a political and leadership end remains to be seen. The apparent popular opinion is that the absence or disposion of the ruling elite and their parliamentary powers will be replaced by a consensual, truly representation model.

Yet the true ideological spectrum between opposites of 'autocratic aristocracy' and apparent 'socialist democracy' is vast and complex. Regime change outcomes rarely the result of harmonious agreement, but realised through social leverage & rhetoric, in short playing to the crowd with promises easily made but ultimately far harder to keep, even if indeed the promise be genuine.

History is witness to the battles of regime change and indeed its failures. From a short-lived Cromwellian 'Protectorate' England of 1653-59, the French 'Terreur' period of 1793-4, post-WW1 German Socialism, and more recently the failings of Ukranian 'democracy' which reportedly has done little for the people en mass. Power and wealth instead switches to the hands of a different, new self-styled, often ego-centric, leadership.

Thus we have yet to retro-spectively witness whether the 'Arab Spring' brings about a new era of speedily injected positivism, or one of factional political infighting. History typically suggests the latter, which should be a warning to both incumbent 'leaderships' and the apparent 'freedom fighters'.

But of course, the reality is far more complex than portrayed.

As past examples have shown, leadership struggles inevitably create internal disruption and in turn economic disruption, so creating failing conditions across all of society, from the everyday workings of the public-sector to the strategic decision-making of the private sector. The reality of economic stability suffers at the hands of social idealism.

This appears the case in Bahrain.

Debate continues about the hosting of the Bahrain Grand Prix.

The original event date of 13th March was post-poned under the mounting pressure of social demonstration, the GP Asia series already abandoned. Bernie Ecclestone's FOM (Formula One Management) consulted the FIA, participant race teams and Bahraini officials and a new consensual date was reset for 30th October.

However new reports state that even that re-instated date is likely to been canceled.

This it appears is due to the race teams reticence to participate, this reticence no doubt generated by their corporate sponsors' understandable unwillingness to perceptually afflict their brands with the stain of metaphorical blood. It is after all a sensitive issue for all involved, and at this point in time, with stock markets stuttering, corporations are having to act defensively on the PR front. Thus the reticence of the F1 teams is equally understandable given their reliance on sponsorship.

However, without wanting to appear deliberately controversial, investment-auto-motives believes that the race should be run in an alternative format, for the long-term economic and social sake of Bahrain. A middle-way should be sought.

One that demonstrates to the people why F1 should be viewed not as a glamorous and frivolous 'western' event but critical as an economic hub, a wealth generator and of strategic industrial-policy importance for the population at large.

The cancellation of the F1 event would be a time-tabling inconvenience to FIA, and a re-scheduling inconvenience and cost to the teams. But to be candid they see it as little more than a track destination, focus instead realistically limited to their near-term goal of driver and constructor championships, technical attention directed at the track layout and facilities with commercial attention directed at maintaining sponsorship good-will.

Thus the sport itself is little effected by a Bahraini cancellation, the reported £24m loss for FOM hard to swallow but nevertheless able to do so given the global demand for hosting F1. Other EM nations offer welcoming open arms, themselves hoping to re-play the Bahraini/GCC F1 model backed by growing petro-dollar SWF pots.

But to Bahrain, the F1 event serves not only as a great national day of motor-sport which gathers a car-crazy population, nor does it simply spot-light Bahrain on the world-map as an emergent powerhouse or as a tourist destination. The F1 event demonstrates an economic growth path for the country itself. As the pinnacle of motorsport adeptly aligned to aerospace materials and science it serves as a technology platform demonstrator, its advanced technology aligned to many spheres from eco-power engineering & generation to creation of private light aircraft design and assembly, these but only 2 derivative applications that have been seen to assist ambitious EM nations.

Beyond of course it also represents a retail opportunity through merchandising for the events held at the track/stadia, merchandise which can be manufactured or assembled in Bahrain.

But critically, the F1 race highlights the infrastructural investment put in place to serve not only F1, nor only motor-sports, but the very nub of leisure-based industries that will help the cross-cultural integration of Bahraini's whatever their Islamic interpretation or their ancestral homeland.

In short, it gives a focus to the nation from which many social, economic and technical advantages have already been derived, and must continue to be derived. On the surface it may look like a vanity project for the Bahraini Royals and their guests, but the multiplier effect is proven, and appears to have much potential remaining therein.

The loss of a Grand Prix event cannot be conceivably compared to the loss of human life seen in the demonstrations. But if well managed a resumed Bahrain GP could act as to portray an optimistic future for the country, instead of the fractious one presently being transmitted to the world.

That means finding a solution that is amenable to all stake-holders.

To this end, investment-auto-motives believes that the race should take place on 30th October as re-scheduled, in a sensitive manner.

But that it may have to do so with the basic 'rules' the event re-written. As for the hosting itself by the Al-Khalifa Royal family, less ostentatious glamour - thus in keeping with Islamic tradition - and greater explanation of F1's strategic role for the national good. If social unrest continues with likelihood that the race attract demonstration, it should be run as a televised yet 'closed' event, this not simply as an order by the ruling elite directed at the public, but themselves displaying their similar abstention / deprival ; the race still run to demonstrate the Bahraini promise and contribution to Grand Prix as part of its 'international economic pact'

The race teams should agree with their sponsors as a uniform understanding that corporate sponsorship decals will not be displayed, thus cars run 'naked' in the spirit of both social understanding and the teams and drivers implored to drive as true gentlemen, reflecting their heroic forebears and demonstrating an ethical standard which itself could be more broadly influential.

The easy ploy for all concerned is to abandon the Bahrain GP Race, but this would simply demonstrate to the world that major advances made by the Gulf nations are being internally eroded - so replaying the age-old negative Arab stereotype.

The more difficult but historically significant ploy is to re-interpret the challenge as an opportunity, all stakeholders - Crown Prince Salman Al-Khalifa, Bernie Ecclestone, Team Bosses & Sponsors - intent on demonstrating to Bahraini's and the world alike that a sensitive 'one-off' an alternative formula can be attained.

One that is able to display the true nature of F1 as both social glue (without typical propaganda) and as serving as a (well communicated) foundation-stone to technological comprehension and self-competence and so as critical economic pillar.