F1 teams happy to go to Bahrain: Ecclestone

Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone says next week's Bahrain Grand Prix is definitely going ahead as planned and all of the teams are "happy" to be going there.

Updated: April 13, 2012 17:48 IST
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Shanghai: Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone says next week's Bahrain Grand Prix is definitely going ahead as planned and all of the teams are "happy" to be going there.

Ecclestone said after meeting with team principals at the Chinese Grand Prix on Friday that he believed Bahrain is peaceful enough to hold the race and that extra safety precautions would not be necessary.

"There's nothing happening (in Bahrain)," Ecclestone said. "I know people that live there and it's all very quiet and peaceful."

His comments followed a statement released earlier in the day by the FIA, the sport's world governing body, also confirming the race would be held as planned, despite ongoing political instability in the country.

Pressure has been mounting for the race to be postponed or canceled because of ongoing clashes between security forces and anti-government protesters in the Persian Gulf island nation. The crackdown has left at least 50 people dead.

Race organisers cancelled last year's event after an uprising by the country's Shiite majority, who are seeking a greater political voice in the country, led to a harsh crackdown by the Sunni-led government.

Human rights groups criticised the race being reinstated this year, and protesters have recently galvanised supporters by chanting against the F1 in marches and criticising Ecclestone and F1 drivers on social media websites.

But Ecclestone said he believes the problems in the country shouldn't affect the race for a second year in a row.

"I'm happy that our position is quite clear. We don't get involved in politics in a country. We go to a country like we come here," he said.

"They will sort out their internal problems, I'm quite sure."

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said after the meeting with Ecclestone that the teams have to "trust and respect" the judgment of the FIA. He added his team would not compromise on the safety of its members.

"We take the security of all our employees very carefully and so inevitably, as with other races, sometimes extra precautions are taken and we'll do our best to ensure that all our guys and girls are in a secure environment," he said. "But I don't doubt that for a moment. The statement from the FIA is clear."

The FIA said federation president Jean Todt visited Bahrain in November and met with Shiite members of parliament, the president of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, European ambassadors, the crown prince, the interior minister and businessmen to discuss the political situation in the country and viability of the race.

"All expressed their wish for the grand prix to go ahead in 2012, and since then, the FIA has kept in close touch with all these stakeholders.

"Away from the public eye, the FIA has received regular security briefings from the most senior diplomatic officials based in the kingdom as well as from other independent experts."

The Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) welcomed the decision on Friday, saying the FIA had issued a fair assessment of the security situation in the country.

"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.

"This assessment has been provided by experienced figures, from both inside and outside the Bahraini government, to motor racing entities which have traveled to Bahrain to do their own research."

Amnesty International, however, warned that "the human rights crisis in Bahrain is not over."

In a statement, the London-based group said that despite authorities' claims the Gulf kingdom is calm and free of political unrest, the "state violence against those who oppose the Al Khalifa family rule continues," referring to the family of the king, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

"Holding the Grand Prix in Bahrain in 2012 risks being interpreted by the government of Bahrain as symbolising a return to business as usual," Amnesty's statement said.

Most F1 drivers were reluctant to comment on the Bahrain situation when asked in China, but Red Bull's Mark Webber said racing against the background of social and political unrest put drivers in a difficult position.

"Ultimately, we are all human. We have morals, we have ways we see things," he said. "We like to think that people and situations are fair and everything is, as I suppose, correct as we would like it to be.

"As a grand prix driver, I'm contracted to the team, they're contracted to the FIA. They hold a 20-round world championship. We go to those venues and race. And that's where it is."

McLaren's Lewis Hamilton said he hasn't been thinking about the controversy, leaving it to the FIA to make the call.

"I always said we just have to look to the FIA to make the decision and they have, so we're going racing," he said.

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