Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone has dismissed concerns over this week’s Bahrain Grand Prix after pro-democracy protests escalated and a militant group blew up a car in the capital Manama.
Ecclestone said he could see “no reason” why the race, which was cancelled in 2011 after an uprising but went ahead despite demonstrations last year, should not be a success.
“Yes. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t be (a success),” Ecclestone told AFP at the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai.
Last week, police fired tear-gas and sound bombs to disperse hundreds of people demonstrating against the race, witnesses said.
The mainly Shiite opposition is organising a week of protests that began on Friday to coincide with the grand prix.
And on Monday, authorities said a “terrorist group” used a gas cylinder to blow up a car overnight in Manama. Nobody was hurt in the explosion.
The radical youth February 14 Movement claimed responsibility for the blast on Twitter, saying it was aimed at disrupting “activity in Manama’s financial centre in opposition to holding the Formula One race”.
Authorities in the resource-rich Gulf kingdom have promised “appropriate security measures” for the race. “The security situation in Bahrain is very reassuring,” a government spokeswoman told the state news agency BNA.
Bahrain “will ensure that appropriate security measures are taken during the F1 race and will take enough measures as in all other countries which host such international sporting events,” she said.
However, Bahrain was not a hot topic of discussion at the Chinese Grand Prix, unlike last year when the subject dominated. And Ecclestone said he wasn’t even aware of any current protests.
“What’s happened? They’re demonstrating now? I didn’t know that,” he said. “There’s nobody demonstrating.”
The 82-year-old was also unconcerned about a report from Human Rights Watch that police in the Gulf state have been rounding up pro-democracy activists in the run-up to the grand prix.
“No, they have their own politics and they are discussing this, I believe,” Ecclestone said.
Sunni-ruled Bahrain was rocked by month-long pro-democracy protests led by the kingdom’s Shiite majority in early 2011 that were crushed with the help of Saudi-led troops.
The 2011 grand prix was postponed and later cancelled, and last year’s race was accompanied by a week of Shiite-led protests. But demonstrators stayed away from the desert circuit and the race passed off without incident.
Human rights groups say a total of 80 people have been killed since February 2011.
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso heads to Bahrain as the third winner in three grands prix this season after a commanding win on Sunday in Shanghai.
Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel leads the drivers’ standings on 52 points, followed by Kimi Raikkonen on 49, Alonso on 43 and Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes with 40.
“With no one dominating the championship, it makes it extremely interesting, even if we are aware this is only the third race,” said Alonso, the two-time world champion from Spain.
“We are under no illusions and we must continue to concentrate and do all we can to improve still further.”