Formula One bosses gave next week’s Bahrain Grand Prix the green light yesterday, despite security concerns and calls from anti-government activists for the race to be canceled.
The governing International Automobile Federation (FIA) declared in a statement that the race, canceled last year after a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters and in doubt again because of ongoing violence, was on as scheduled.
It said the decision followed regular briefings from senior diplomats and “independent experts” in the Gulf kingdom.
Formula One’s commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone, mobbed by reporters after a meeting with representatives of the 12 teams at the Chinese Grand Prix, declared the race “200 percent” certain to go ahead.
“All the teams are happy to be there,” the 81-year-old added. “There’s nothing happening. I know people who live there and it’s all very quiet and peaceful.”
Christian Horner, principal of world champions Red Bull, side-stepped a question about whether he was happy to go, but said he respected the FIA position.
“I think it’s clear. The confusing thing has been uncertainty, so I think for everybody here in the paddock now it’s clear that there will be a race in Bahrain next week,” he said.
The Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) welcomed the decision and said it was ready.
“The BIC has been clear throughout recent weeks and months that the security situation in Bahrain is suitable for the staging of a major sporting event,” it said in a statement.
The timing of the FIA statement, released a day before its French president Jean Todt is due to arrive at the Shanghai circuit, was seen as a clear sign of the governing body’s determination to set the agenda.
“Based on the current information the FIA has at this stage, it is satisfied that all the proper security measures are in place for the running of a Formula One World Championship event in Bahrain,” the statement said.
“Therefore, the FIA confirms that the 2012 F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain will go ahead as scheduled.”
The race at Sakhir, which brought in more than 100,000 visitors and half a billion US dollars in spending when last held in 2010, will be the fourth round of the 20-race season.
The race also contributes about US$40 million in hosting fees to Formula One’s coffers and Ecclestone said last month that the sport would be there “for as long as they want us.”
Most Formula One drivers, who will have extra security for the race, have shied away from voicing opinions on the political situation, but Red Bull’s Australian Mark Webber tried to put the Grand Prix into perspective.
“Ultimately it’s a car race,” he said. “There are a hell of a lot of people in the world who don’t have a clue there is a Grand Prix in Bahrain next weekend, so let’s not get too wrapped up in our own bubble about how important it is.”
CHINESE GRAND PRIX
Michael Schumacher could be closing in on his first pole position in six years after setting the fastest practice time at the Chinese Grand Prix yesterday.
The Mercedes driver’s time was a 10th of a second faster in the afternoon practice than McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton, who took back-to-back poles to start the season at the Australian GP and Malaysian GP.
Red Bull teammates Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber had the third and fourth-fastest times of the session.