Peter Stebbings, AFP
Last updated: 15 April, 2012

Formula One chief Ecclestone: “What Bahrain protests?”

Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone denied all knowledge of protests and violence in Bahrain, as a 15-year-old boy lay in intensive care after being shot by anti-riot police.

Ecclestone and Formula One’s world governing body on Friday declared that next Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix would go ahead as scheduled, despite ongoing anti-government demonstrations and escalating sectarian tensions.

“Do you think that if we cancel the Formula One that all the problems will just disappear?” an irritated Ecclestone, 81, told AFP in the paddock at the Chinese Grand Prix, which has been overshadowed by the Bahrain controversy.

Put to him by an AFP reporter that demonstrators were planning to target the April 22 race and that there had been more unrest in the wake of his announcement on Friday, Ecclestone replied: “What protests?”

The bullish Ecclestone, the commercial rights holder for Formula One, also denied all knowledge of anyone being shot by police.

“Nobody has been shot,” he said. “What are you talking about?”

He then swore and stormed off.

On Friday he said that the kingdom was “quiet and peaceful”.

Teenager Mohammed Ahmed Abdel Aziz was among several people wounded during a funeral ceremony when he was hit in the chest several times by anti-riot police firing tear gas and live rounds at mourners, the opposition said.

At least 35 people have been killed since pro-democracy demonstrations erupted in the Bahrain capital Manama last year.

The “Revolution of February 14” youth group has called for “three days of rage” in Bahrain from April 20 to 22 — the practice, qualifying and race days at the grand prix — and launched a Twitter campaign to cancel the event.

But F1 governing body the FIA (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile) says there will be sufficient protection in place and is adamant the showpiece — which was scrapped last year over the unrest — will proceed.

Publicly, the teams say they are putting their trust in the FIA and are happy to go, but behind the scenes they are understood to have grave concerns.

Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn said: “It is very difficult for us.”

“We have to take the advice of people who have all the information that is happening. We have reassurances from the FIA that they believe we can have a safe race there, so we follow that advice,” he told reporters.

Foreign journalists have been banned from entering Bahrain since the protests began in February 2011, according to the press freedom group Reporters Without Borders.

International media organisations are allowed to go for the grand prix, although several — including from Finland and Japan — are reported to have opted not to go and dozens of others have major doubts.