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Page last updated at 17:04 GMT, Friday, 18 February 2011

F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone 'hopeful' over Bahrain GP

Bahrain Grand Prix
The Formula 1 season is scheduled to begin in Bahrain in March

By Dan Roan
Sports news correspondent

Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone remains hopeful the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix in March will go ahead despite unrest in the country.

Concerns about the race on 13 March follow unrest which has seen three people killed and 231 injured in clashes between protestors and police.

Ecclestone told the BBC: "Our people there say: 'It's quiet, no problems'.

"I'm more hopeful today. I hope we don't have to do anything. Let's hope this all blows away."

On Thursday, after this weekend's GP2 Asia race at the Sakhir circuit was cancelled in the wake of the deaths of three protesters in clashes with police overnight, Ecclestone had warned that the grand prix on 13 March was in jeopardy.

But - speaking at 1245 GMT on Friday, before reports of security forces opening fire again on protestors in Bahrain - Ecclestone said: "That's an Asian series so it's not terribly important, and we didn't want to take chances so we pulled it.

"Probably today if we had to make the decision on the information I've got, we wouldn't do that. But anyway it seems as if - they say - it's quiet, no big problems.

"Now, they're there. I don't know if I was there or you were there we'd say there are problems, I've no idea. But that's what our people said. I'm more hopeful today than I was yesterday."

He added: "Let's hope that this all blows away. In these parts there's always been skirmishes. Perhaps it's a bit more than that."

The unrest in Bahrain is continuing on Friday in the wake of the deaths of three people in the early hours of Thursday morning when police cleared protesters from a square in the centre of the capital Manama.

We've never been involved in religion or politics. We've never made a decision on this. It's not for us to run a country

Bernie Ecclestone

Thousands of people have been voicing anger against Bahrain's authorities at the funerals of victims of Thursday's clashes which left four dead.

Crowds attending Friday prayers joined the funeral processions, calling for the overthrow of the ruling family.

Asked about potential damage to the image of F1 if the sport visited the country at this time, Ecclestone said: "It seems as if people thought it was democratic a few weeks ago.

"Let's wait and see, because we don't know what the protesting is really about.

"We've never been involved in religion or politics. We've never made a decision on this. It's not for us to run a country."

If we decide to go there then we have reasons to believe it's no problem and if we don't then it's exactly the opposite

Sebastian Vettel
World champion

Ecclestone said he "hadn't thought about" the commercial implications of cancelling the race, adding: "It's not good because TV companies have scheduled to broadcast the race, so it's better that it happens than not. We'll decide in the middle of next week I suppose."

The last time a grand prix was moved from its scheduled date was the 1985 Belgian race.

Ecclestone said: "We scheduled that later. We may be able to do the same with this one.

"I hope we don't have to do anything, I hope things will just carry on as normal. Obviously some people were killed, nobody's happy with that, I'm quite sure."

The F1 teams are currently testing at the Circuit de Catalunya near Barcelona in Spain.

They are to meet later on Friday to discuss whether a planned test in Bahrain on 3-6 March, a week before the first race on 13 March, can go ahead.

Nobody likes the idea of going somewhere where you could be potentially endangered

Nick Heidfeld
Renault driver

It is widely expected to be cancelled, with the teams staying in Europe for the final pre-season test, either in Spain in Barcelona or Jerez or at the Portimao track on the Algarve in Portugal.

World champion Sebastian Vettel, who is in Barcelona for the test, said: "Generally it has always been very peaceful there and very quiet.

"Obviously I can only judge from what I see in the media. I think if we go there then it's safe enough and if we don't go there they've told me it's not.

"We have to wait until next week and decide what to do about the test first of all and then ultimately the week later for the race.

"When we take a decision we take a decision all together, the teams, which includes the drivers, (governing body) the FIA, and Formula 1 in general.

"If we decide to go there then we have reasons to believe it's no problem and if we don't then it's exactly the opposite."

Renault driver Nick Heidfeld added: "It is not only down to how it is for the drivers, but how it is to the general public, to everybody who visits, to all the spectators and whether the risk is too high.

It's not just about the safety of those involved but being sensitive to what is going on in the country

Adam Parr
Williams team chairman

"Nobody likes the idea of going somewhere where you could be potentially endangered."

Williams team chairman Adam Parr told Reuters: "We would be very disappointed if we were unable to start our season in Bahrain.

"We want to make a positive contribution to the countries that we visit and our intention is always to be there as a positive presence.

"If that were not to be the case, we would not want to make a negative impact.

"Clearly if Formula 1 were to become a focal point of unrest, that would be a concern.

"It's not just about the safety of those involved but being sensitive to what is going on in the country."

Ecclestone said he was planning to speak with Crown Prince Salman ibn Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa - the Bahrain King's son and heir apparent, who reportedly pays $30m a year to host the race - later on Friday to discuss the growing tension.



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see also
Sport and politics bound together
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Bahrain troops 'fire on crowds'
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Angry Bahrainis bury their dead
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Bahrain tightens grip on protests
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Bahrain police break up protest
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Bahrain GP 'could be cancelled'
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Bahrain quells GP security fears
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Alonso triumphs as Vettel fades
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