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Decision to be taken next week over Bahrain Grand Prix

Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone will wait until next week before deciding on whether to cancel the opening Bahrain Grand Prix.

The deteriorating political situation in the island kingdom today forced the cancellation of the GP2 Asia Series races scheduled to take place at the Bahrain International Circuit this weekend.

According to reports, four people were killed and 300 injured last night as riot police stormed a camp of demonstrators in the capital Manama.

Batons, tear gas and rubber bullets were used on the 2,000 that were sleeping at the time in Pearl Square, prior to a battalion of 50 tanks moving in to patrol the streets.

The scenes followed two deaths earlier this week as protesters seek political reform in a country where the Sunni Muslim family has ruled a predominantly Shi’ite population for the last 30 years.

Given the ongoing unrest, serious question marks now hang over the viability of staging the curtain-raising F1 event, due to take place at the BIC from March 11-13.

A decision on whether it goes ahead rests with Ecclestone, FIA president Jean Todt and the race organisers in Bahrain, as well as Crown Prince Salman ibn Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa.

Ecclestone, who today confirmed finally speaking with the Crown Prince regarding the prospects for the race, told Press Association Sport: “It’s not good is it?

“We’ll have to keep our eye on things and make a decision quickly.

“I spoke to the Crown Prince this morning. He doesn’t know any more than you or I, but they’re monitoring exactly what is going on.

“Next week we will make a decision on what we are going to do.”

Ahead of the grand prix, F1 is due to descend on Bahrain in less than a fortnight’s time for the final pre-season test session, scheduled to run from March 3-6.

A decision as to whether that goes ahead could be made as early as tomorrow given all the teams are in Barcelona for the penultimate test at the Circuit de Catalunya.

Bahrain International Circuit CEO, Sheikh Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa has again today reiterated everything will be done to ensure all goes ahead as planned, and as smoothly as possible.

Al Khalifa added: “Our priority at this time is ensuring the well being of everyone associated with this event.”

However, it appears to be a promise that cannot be guaranteed, in particular if the protests continue over the next few days, and into next week.

FIA president Jean Todt, speaking on a visit to Dublin, claimed he was determined to keep a cool head.

Todt stated that he always tried “not to overreact on breaking stories,” adding there was “no reason for unnecessary concern”.

However, the cancellation of the GP2 race has added a further twist to the situation as an FIA spokesman said: “As you can imagine we are monitoring events extremely closely - every five minutes.

“The president is looking at the matter closely and when there is something to announce we will let everybody know.”

Clearly the environment in Bahrain is an unpleasant one at present, as described by a couple of members of the GP2 Asia personnel.

Team Air Asia driver and Team Lotus reserve Davide Valsecchi said: “My hotel is just 800m away from the centre of the riot and I could hear shots of machine guns.”

Racing Engineering team principal Alfonso d’Orleans-Borbon said: “There are Saudi tanks everywhere, and during the night we heard shots.”

That is not an atmosphere F1 would wish to entertain, with Virgin Racing team principal John Booth describing the events in Bahrain as “very disturbing”.

Speaking to the BBC, Booth added: “But if the local government, along with FOM (Formula One Management) and the FIA say it is safe to go, then we go.

“We will trust their judgment. They will have people on the ground assessing the situation all the time, and I’m sure they are well informed of the risks.

“The only complication is the test, with most of us out there for 16 days, so a decision (on that) will need taking by the 25th when the freight goes out, and a week after for the race.” (ESPNstar)

Posted on Friday, February 18, 2011 @ 12:04:00 LKT


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