The Bahrain Grand Prix will go ahead next week as planned, Formula One bosses declared on Friday, despite fears it could be targeted by violent anti-government demonstrations.
The sport’s governing body, the FIA (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile), and commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone made separate announcements just hours apart in Shanghai, venue of the Chinese Grand Prix.
The controversial Bahrain event set for April 22 has overshadowed the lead-up to Sunday’s race in Shanghai and many teams are believed to have grave concerns.
It was postponed last year after protests against the government erupted, and then removed from the 2011 schedule, and was thought to be in jeopardy once again because of the more than year-long demonstrations.
With the FIA and Ecclestone under intense pressure to make a final ruling, the flamboyant 81-year-old had a 30-minute meeting with the teams before emerging to proclaim the race had never been in any doubt.
Asked by AFP if he was 100 percent sure Bahrain was on, he said: “Two hundred percent.”
Ecclestone added: “Everybody’s happy. You guys are happy.”
Prompted if he had any concerns, he said: “Not at all. It’s a ‘problem’ which has been discussed by the media, who have no idea what is going on.
“This race is on the calendar and has been on the calendar for quite a long time. We will be there. All the teams are happy to be there.
“I know people who live there and it’s all very quiet and peaceful.”
He added: “Formula One has put Bahrain on the map. They will sort out their internal problems, I am quite sure. I think it is good for Bahrain. Our position is quite clear: we don’t get involved in politics.”
The FIA said in a statement that it was “satisfied” that sufficient security was in place at the Sakhir circuit to deter protesters who say they will target the event.
FIA president Jean Todt led a fact-finding mission to the kingdom in November, it added, meeting the interior minister, members of the royal family, European ambassadors and the business community.
“All expressed their wish for the grand prix to go ahead in 2012, and since then, the FIA has kept in close touch with all these stakeholders,” the FIA said.
“Away from the public eye, the FIA has received regular security briefings from the most senior diplomatic officials based in the kingdom as well as from other independent experts.”
Bahrain says it is now safe there, despite a recent upsurge in violence and mounting sectarian tensions, including a bomb blast on Monday that wounded seven police officers and a revenge attack on Shiite villagers.
Washington said this week that it was “deeply concerned” and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday criticised “the excessive use of force” against protesters.
Publicly, at least, teams were putting on a brave face.
“We are confident in the FIA. They are much closer to the situation than any of the teams are,” said Christian Horner, the Red Bull team principal, after the talks with Ecclestone.
“They are responsible for the safety of not just the drivers, but the team personnel, the media, the spectators, and we have to absolutely trust and respect the FIA.
“They’ve come out with a statement today that’s very clear. They’ve obviously had consultations with all the relevant parties so we respect their decision.”
Asked if he was happy with the decision, Horner said: “The thing is that it is now clear. The confusing thing has been the uncertainty. Everybody in the paddock is now clear that there will be a race in Bahrain next week.”
McLaren driver and 2008 world champion Lewis Hamilton gave little away.
“It doesn’t make any difference to me,” he said, denying it was a relief that a decision had finally been made.
“I’m just focused on this race first and foremost.”