Two members of the Force India Formula One team have decided to leave Bahrain after a firebomb was set off in traffic near a team vehicle as part of the ongoing anti-government protests.
The firebomb exploded on Wednesday night in Bahrain's capital Manama, causing a Force India van with four team members to be delayed in traffic on its way from the Bahrain Grand Prix circuit back to its hotel. No one in the vehicle was hurt and none of the four passengers were Formula One drivers, Force India spokesman Will Hings told The Associated Press by telephone from Manama on Thursday.
"We were not the target. We just happened upon an incident that was ahead of us, a disruption in the road," Hings said. "Nobody was hurt from our team. We were not targeted directly by Molotov cocktails."
Hings said the four team members were back at the track on Thursday, but later told the AP that one of them was leaving the country and heading back to Europe. Hings said another member of the team who was not in the delayed vehicle was also leaving.
"I won't be giving any details of their positions or names ... they were just people working for the team," Hings said. "I can't give you any more information other than that they're returning home out of their free choice."
Demonstrators in Bahrain have increasingly used firebombs against security forces during the near daily clashes. But Hings declined to comment on whether the team was worried about safety.
"We've always taken our direction from the FIA. I'm sure they're continuing to monitor the situation in Bahrain," Hings said. "We take our guidance from them."
The Bahrain International Circuit said the incident involving the Force India vehicle was caused by "illegal protesters acting violently towards police."
"During this incident a Molotov cocktail landed in the vicinity of their vehicle," the BIC said in a statement. "After approximately two minutes, the route was cleared and the vehicle carried on its journey."
The government said on Thursday "a number of rioters and vandals" were arrested.
The Bahrain GP was canceled last year due to anti-government protests that left nearly 50 dead. But last week, F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone declared the Gulf kingdom safe and decided to go ahead with this week's race.
"The BIC would like to reiterate its confidence in the relevant Bahrain authorities in their ability to deal with such isolated incidents and can confirm that all the usual precautions are being taken around the track to ensure the level of security is maintained," the circuit said.
Most drivers sidestepped questions on the security issue on Thursday, saying they were simply following the advice of the teams and the FIA that it would be safe to race in Bahrain.
But Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel said concerns about driver security following the Force India incident were overblown.
"Outside of the paddock, maybe there is a risk, but I think there is a risk everywhere we go," Vettel said. "When we go to Brazil, it's not really the place you want to be as well, and it depends on the area, too. It's not a big problem and I'll be happy once we start testing on Friday because then we can worry about the stuff that really matters - tire temperatures and cars. I don't think it's that bad. I think it's a lot of hype."
Force India's German driver Niko Hulkenberg, though, criticized the violence of the protesters.
"It's obviously not right that that sort of stuff happens," he said.
"We're here to race, the Formula One business is entertainment and these sort of things shouldn't really be happening to us. It's difficult to say whether it's right or not. I don't really know from my position as a Formula One driver, but it shouldn't really be happening should it? It's not good that we have to worry about it, but that's the way it is now and I hope it's going to be calm for the rest of the week."
On Wednesday, security forces fired stun grenades at anti-government protesters who swarmed into a cultural exhibition for the race, setting off street battles and sending visitors fleeing for cover. The demonstration was the most direct attempt by Shiite-led protesters to bring their demands for an end to the near monopoly on power by the island nation's Sunni monarchy into events linked to Sunday's race.
Race organizers have insisted it will be safe, and blamed extremist groups using "scare-mongering tactics" for raising doubts about the race.
But protesters argue that the race gives greater international legitimacy to the monarchy and its crackdowns, which rights activists claim have included waves of arrests in the past week.
On the track, teams will be practicing on Friday and Saturday before qualifying later Saturday. The race is scheduled for Sunday.