COCK DIESEL, AND OTHER BAHRAIN SIGHTINGS

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Be careful in Bahrain, everyone was saying. It’s kicking off again, they warned. Last year we came here with a lot of emotions: concern, excitement, resolve, moral conflict. And then nothing happened. I had a lovely time. Admittedly I chose the Novotel’s lagoon pool over the country’s tear gas hotspots for nightly relaxation, but isn’t that common sense? So this year, despite similar threats and some grave headlines, the mood in the paddock is one of Business As Usual.

Only the police presence, the hulking blue APCs hidden down side roads, and the polite gentlemen with MP5s and shotguns at the circuit entrance point to the security risks in Bahrain.

Still, you cannot take chances. I’m grateful to Infiniti for sorting F1-SD out with another FX 4×4. Come roadblock or ambush nothing’s messing with this bugger, I’ll ride straight over the top and look good doing it.

At the very least, the Infiniti looks bullet-proof and perception is nine tenths of reality (the one remaining tenth, presumably, a dry cleaner’s nightmare).

Guns n’ ammo seems to the theme for this weekend. Alexander Rossi, Caterham’s third driver, has a big grin on his face because he’s been hanging out with the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, who operate in the Persian Gulf. Normally their hours are spent shining their shoes, looking through binoculars and visiting the barber three times a day. However, Rossi brought along a Caterham 7 and took them all out for donuts. In return they welcomed him aboard ship, lent him a Kevlar jacket (he could have used one of them in GP3) and gave him the tiller of a Riverine Command Boat. He said it was the coolest thing he’s ever done. The highlight, apparently, was meeting a sailor named Cock Diesel – surely a born NASCAR racer.

Quite by chance, at the same time, I was several thousand miles away in Hong Kong harbour aboard the USS Peleliu as a guest of the US Marines, who have Harriers, helicopters and various amphibious vehicles on standby should Lil’ Kim turn rhetoric into action.

I was so excited about going on an aircraft carrier that I couldn’t sleep the night before. And, the following day, as I was flying out to Bahrain that evening I had sacrificed my hotel room. Come lunchtime, I was dropping off and forced myself to sleep for four hours on the floor of a disabled bathroom (considerably roomier that anything you’ll find in Tokyo).

Last night was actually the first time I’ve slept in a bed in three days. It came after a media soiree hosted by the Bahrain International Circuit, at Manama’s Meat Co steakhouse. There were sliders, various things on skewers, and the steak frites I have been yearning for ever since leaving Europe. There was also an unlimited flow of booze and that means most of the media today look like they’ve been caught in one of those village crossfire tear-gassy places. And maybe one or two have. You know who you are, Butch and Sundance.

ImageThe Star Ferry, USS Peleliu and Ritz Carlton in alignment in Hong Kong

ImageThe flight deck of the USS Peleliu, with stars and stripes at halfmast for Boston

ImageCaterham’s Alexander Rossi joins the US military in Bahrain

ImagePatrolling Bahrain in an Infiniti FX35

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