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2012-04-10 06:56

WALL OF PROTEST: A Bahraini Shi'ite walks past graffiti railing against the F1 GP scheduled there for April 22. It reads 'Are you racing on the blood of martyrs?' and protesters want the race cancelled. Image: AFP


LONDON, England - Formula 1 teams were on their way to China on Monday (April 9) not knowing, as the volume of calls for the following week's race to be cancelled, whether their next stop would be Bahrain.

Some teams have apparently hedged their bets by routing personnel on return flights via Abu Dhabi, Dubai or Oman with alternative reservations for the last leg of the journey back to Europe from Shanghai.

That would allow them to bypass Bahrain if the race were cancelled.


Others said they expected the race in Bahrain, where protests against the ruling family have been occurring on an almost daily basis with activists calling for the GP to be cancelled, would proceed as planned and were planning accordingly.

"We're going on and that's it," said one team member. "If the race is cancelled, we'll deal with it."

A report in The Times newspaper that some teams had given "hundreds of engineers, mechanics and catering staff" two sets of tickets - one a simple Europe-China return, the other back via Bahrain - was seen as wide of the mark by some.

"Maybe some teams can afford that but it's not something we are doing," said a member of one of the less wealthy teams while waiting at London's Heathrow airport for a flight. "That would cost an arm and a leg. We definitely don't have that sort of cash."

The governing International Automobile Federation, commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone and Bahrain organisers have all said the April 22 race is on. Top teams based in the UK have also been supportive, at least in public and despite evident doubts.


"I feel very uncomfortable about going to Bahrain," one unnamed team principal told The Guardian newspaper on Monday. "If I'm brutally frank, the only way they can pull this race off without incident is to have a complete military lock-down there. I think that would be unacceptable, both for F1 and for Bahrain.

"We're all hoping the FIA calls it off," he added. "From a purely legal point of view, in terms of insurance and government advice, we are clear to go but what we find worrying is that there are issues happening every day."

An FIA spokesman told Reuters over the Easter weekend that the Paris-based body was "constantly monitoring and evaluating the situation" and keeping in touch daily with foreign embassies and the authorities in Bahrain.

A McLaren spokesman, whose team is part-owned by Bahrain's Mumtalakat sovereign wealth fund, said any decisions were up to the governing body. "It is the FIA Formula 1 World championship and we look to the FIA to offer us guidance."


Bahrain has suffered civil unrest since an uprising in February 2011 and the situation has grown more tense in recent weeks as the race date approaches and the health of a jailed activist on a hunger strike deteriorates.

More than 5000 demonstrators and police faced each other near the capital, Manama, on Good Friday with the protestors demanding the release of hunger striker Abdulhadi al-Khawaja whose fast has lasted more than 60 days. He is now in a military hospital, his condition considered "fragile".

FIA president Jean Todt is expected to be in China, as is Ecclestone, and there are likely to be a number of meetings in the Shanghai paddock - possibly up until as late as Sunday morning.

"Friday has been the busiest day for protests in Bahrain so Saturday looks the most likely day for any emergency meeting (in Shanghai)," one team member said.

2011's Bahrain GP was repeatedly re-scheduled and then reluctantly cancelled by organisers due to the violence in the country.

Race circuit chairman Zayed Alzayani said in March 2012 that the race contributed $220-million directly to the local economy and $400-500-million indirectly.


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