Local protest groups have warned than ongoing anti-government protests could spill over into disrupting the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, raising concerns for F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone.
No doubt inspired by recent political upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt, thousands of pro-democracy protestors in Bahrain have clashed with riot police, who have used tear gas, rubber bullets and batons to quell the dissent, resulting in the deaths of three protestors and injuries to dozens more.
Nabeel Rajab, a figurehead in the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights campaign group, has warned that the country’s Grand Prix could be an opportunity for protestors to bring their cause to a more global awareness.
“For sure F1 is not going to be peaceful this time,” he is quoted by the Arabian Business newspaper.
“There’ll be lots of journalists, a lot of people looking and [the government] will react in a stupid manner as they did today and yesterday. And that will be bloody, but will be more publicised.”
Bahrain is scheduled to hold the second round of the GP2 Asia Series this weekend – with drivers and team figures in the island kingdom already reporting concerns about their safety – before the final F1 pre-season test kicks off on March 3 ahead of the actual Grand Prix in mid-March.
Ecclestone is reported to have said he will liaise with Bahrain’s sovereign leader, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa, to get his take on the situation and to seek assurances about the safety of the event.
Furthermore, he would not deny that he would not consider calling off the race if the strife continues.
“The danger is obvious, isn’t it?” Ecclestone is quoted by The Daily Telegraph newspaper. “If these people wanted to make a fuss and get worldwide recognition it would be bloody easy, wouldn’t it?
“You start making a problem on the start grid in Bahrain and it would get worldwide coverage,” he hypothesised.
“It’s hard to establish exactly what is going on [in Bahrain],” he added. “As I say, I’m speaking with the Crown Prince later on. We’re watching events closely. We’ll rely on what they think the right thing to do is.”
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