Already, the Chinese Grand Prix weekend, the week before the Bahrain Grand Prix, had been dominated by the series's decision to go ahead with its race in Bahrain despite daily anti-government demonstrations, violence, deaths and injuries, and calls by demonstrators to cancel the event.
Worldwide, Formula 1 fell under the media spotlight as people protested that the series should not race in a country undergoing a civil uprising.
The Bahrain authorities canceled the race at the last minute in 2011 because of the same Arab Spring protests and instability, but in 2012 the government used the race as a way to show that business was back to normal and the country is safe.
Most of the Formula 1 drivers remained silent on the subject before and during the race weekend, or said they simply had a job to do. Jean Todt, the president of the International Automobile Federation, the sport's governing body, spoke to team directors during the Chinese race weekend, and the federation released a statement on the Friday of the Chinese Grand Prix, saying the Bahrain race would go ahead.
Human Rights Watch said the decision ''gives Bahrain's rulers the opportunity they are seeking to obscure the seriousness of the country's human rights situation.''
MTV Finland, Sky Germany and Fuji TV of Japan decided not to show the Bahrain race.
But on the Thursday of the Bahrain Grand Prix, suddenly, it was business as usual for Formula 1, as the teams prepared their cars in their garages and the drivers met the media for the race on Sunday.
But in spite of countless reassurances of safety from the race organizers and the series' stakeholders, a firebomb exploded on the Wednesday night near a van carrying mechanics from the Force India team from the Bahrain circuit to their hotel in Manama. No one was injured, but two members of the team decided to return immediately to Europe and the entire Force India team left the paddock at the track early on Thursday.
By the weekend of the race, an estimated 40 to 70 people have been killed in Bahrain since the Arab Spring uprisings began in February 2011.
But in Bahrain, Formula 1 creates more than 3,000 temporary jobs, and generates $500 million for the economy. Sheik Salman bin Isa al-Khalifa, chief executive of the racetrack and a member of the ruling family, said beforehand that the race brought in ''huge returns,'' ''by regenerating interest in Bahrain as a friendly and hospitable environment.''
Jasim Husain, a former member of Parliament and a member of the biggest opposition party, Al Wefaq, visited the track and said Bahrain welcomed the race. ''I can tell you that most people in Bahrain are happy and pleased that F1 is back in Bahrain, given its effects on the economy and the social aspects of it,'' he said. ''Many are happy and pleased. I see this as a sporting and economic event, rather than a political event.''
By contrast, during an interview with Reuters, the wife of the jailed human rights activist and hunger striker Abdulhadi al-Khawaja criticized Ecclestone, saying he was insensitive to the problems of Bahrain.
Mr. Khawaja, a Danish citizen, had been on a hunger strike for more than two months, and his declining health had brought international appeals for intervention.
Perhaps no other Formula 1 race has been as politically charged and controversial as the Bahrain Grand Prix of 2012.
With the world watching and big money at stake, the government had hoped to use the race to demonstrate that life had returned to normal. But with the media spotlight on the race, the opposition had turned the race into an occasion for a closer look at the political conflict.
The statutes of the governing body of the series, the F.I.A., say that the federation and its series ''shall refrain from manifesting racial, political or religious discrimination in the course of its activities.''
In Bahrain, however, a political and religious storm raged. The ruling family is Sunni Muslim and the majority of the kingdom's population is Shiite. The protests that began in February 2011 have included Shiite claims of discrimination in the country, where Shiites say the best jobs and government posts go only to Sunnis.
But under the slogan ''UniF1ed - One Nation in Celebration,'' the local organizer of the race - the government - sought to promote unity.
A British government minister called for the race to be canceled, and fan bloggers around the world condemned the decision to maintain the race and called for television viewers to boycott broadcasts of it.
But for Formula 1, through rain, shine, heat, scandal, political or economic crisis, the race goes on.
While some observers considered that by holding the race Formula 1 could only be seen as supporting the ruling family, the view of both Ecclestone and the F.I.A. was that calling off the race would essentially be giving in to the protesters.
The F.I.A. president, Jean Todt, said as much on German television the previous week. ''There has been some controversy about it, but the F.I.A. is a sports organization,'' Todt said at the Chinese Grand Prix.
''We are only interested in sport - not politics. Our responsibility is that people can go there and have good and secure conditions. On one hand, there are unpleasant political aspects as well, but it's the same thing all over the world.''
And finally, on race day, for the first time in the three-day weekend of auto racing, the talk and emphasis was almost about only that.
For an hour and a half, the Bahrain Grand Prix went off as planned and the sold-out main grandstand of spectators, the teams and the media were fixated on the racing spectacle, not the fiery attempts to shut down the event.
On the track, the event served as a reminder that although three different teams and drivers had won the first three races this year, the dominant team and driver from last year had not entirely left the picture.
Sebastian Vettel, drove his Red Bull car to a strong, if not entirely dominant, victory at the Bahrain Grand Prix, crossing the finish line 3.3 seconds ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in a Lotus. Romain Grosjean finished third in the other Lotus, 6.8 seconds behind Raikkonen.
''It was an incredible race, very tough,'' said Vettel. ''I'm happy. We had to work extremely hard in the first couple of races, we were not where we wanted to be.''
It was Vettel's 22nd victory, and his first in Bahrain. The victory lifted him from fifth in the series before the race into the lead of the series, ahead of Lewis Hamilton at the McLaren Mercedes team.
Vettel had began the race on pole position and got off to a perfect start while the desert sand on the track rose up behind him and many other drivers lost position at the start of the race because of the slippery track.
It was an exciting race with much overtaking and three pit stops for tire changes by most of the cars. Since the first four races there have now been four different drivers and teams winning, and the race on Sunday showed that there would likely be another team to challenge as the season continued.
After the race, a banner was spread out at the track reading: ''UniF1ed - We Did It!''
Yet what neither Formula 1 nor the Bahrain government had bargained for before staging the race was that the media focus over the race weekend would highlight so little of the racing, and so much of the division and violence within the country.