• Ecclestone to make final assessment next week
• Unrest leaves season’s first F1 race on knife edge
Bernie Ecclestone has expressed hope that the bloody unrest in Bahrain will “blow away” by next week, when he plans to decide whether to pull the opening race of the season.
Formula One’s commercial rights holder sounded more confident early on Friday that the Bahrain grand prix would go ahead despite the protests in Manama, which have put the race on 13 March at serious risk. But amid reports of renewed unrest in Manama’s Pearl Square, with shots fired and reports of at least 20 injuries, Ecclestone later said the situation remained fluid.
“From a realistic point of view it appears that things are changing hourly,” he said. “I feel the most important thing now is to wait until after the weekend, to see what happens over the next few days, and then make a decision next Tuesday or Wednesday.”
Ecclestone, having sought to expand the Formula One calendar into new, profitable parts of the world in recent years, sidestepped questions about whether the sport should travel to countries that meet protests for democratic change with violent crackdowns. “It seems as if people thought it was democratic a few weeks ago,” he said. “We have never, ever, ever been involved in religion and politics. We don’t make decisions based on those things.”
Four protesters were killed and 231 wounded when riot police drove activists from a makeshift camp in Bahrain’s capital on Thursday. Dozens were detained. Several thousand mourners turned out on Friday for the funerals of three of those killed.
Races scheduled for the Sakhir circuit this weekend have been cancelled. “We pulled the GP2 race; it’s the Asian series so it’s not terribly important,” Ecclestone said. “We don’t want to take any chances. Yesterday we decided to do that. Probably today, if we had to make the same decision on the information I’ve got, we probably wouldn’t do that.
“Let’s hope this all just blows away. In these parts there have always been skirmishes. This is perhaps a bit more than that.”
The teams say they will follow guidance from Ecclestone and motor sport’s world governing body, the FIA. Speaking on behalf of the Formula One Teams Association after a two-hour meeting, Red Bull’s team principal, Christian Horner, said: “It’s obviously a really difficult situation in Bahrain.
“But we have complete trust in Bernie, FOM [Formula One Management] and the FIA to make the right decision. They will only send us there if it is safe.
“It would be a great shame to lose the race, but it’s not the teams’ decision – it’s down to the promoter.
“Bernie and the FIA will have much more information than us and we will trust their decisions.”
Meanwhile, Barcelona’s Catalunya Circuit said it would be ready to stage the final pre-season test session if Bahrain were unable to host it. The circuit’s director, Salvador Servia, said the track would be available to hold the three-day event from 6 March after Fota asked about a potential switch.
“Consultations are taking place on the whole logistic possibilities and what is happening in Bahrain,” Fota’s general secretary, Simone Perillo, said. “If things don’t calm down then we’ll have to consider the possibilities.”
If the Bahrain race was cancelled, the Melbourne grand prix on 27 March would be the first in a truncated 19-race season, but it is not thought that Ecclestone would be out of pocket, with the costs of up to m (£37m) in race fees being swallowed by the Bahraini organisers.
But cancellation would be a blow for both the sport and Bahrain, which became the first Middle East country to host a round of the championship in 2004 in an attempt to transform itself into a tourist destination as well as a business hub.
While Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Doha have increasingly sought to attract a range of world-class sporting events as means to showcase their potential, Bahrain has relied on the annual grand prix.