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F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone to await Bahrain developments

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 will wait for developments in Bahrain before deciding whether the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix can go ahead.

Concerns about the race on 13 March follow unrest which has seen three people killed and 231 injured.

Ecclestone initially told BBC Sport on Friday that he had been told there were "no problems" in Bahrain.

But he later admitted the situation had deteriorated, adding: "We should wait and see what happens over the weekend."

Ecclestone added that a decision could be made next Tuesday or Wednesday.

Speaking before reports of security forces opening fire again on protestors in the capital Manama on Friday, Ecclestone said: "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. In these parts there's always been skirmishes. Perhaps it's a bit more than that."

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But the unrest in Bahrain has continued 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.

Thousands of people have been voicing anger against the Gulf state'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.

And Ecclestone told BBC Sport in a second interview later on Friday: "I don't know what has happened this afternoon because I've been travelling but from what I've been told it's a bit different to this morning because of this funeral that's gone on which is what you would expect I suppose."

Asked if he feared there was now less chance of the race going ahead, he said: "I don't fear anything, I just think things have changed and that we should wait and see over the weekend exactly what changes there have been."

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.

Asked on Friday about potential damage to the image of F1 if the sport visited the country at this time, he 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.

A planned test in Bahrain on 3-6 March, a week before the first race on 13 March, 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.

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

Nick Heidfeld
Renault driver

Representatives from the teams gathered on Friday in Barcelona to discuss whether to go ahead with the Bahrain test but Red Bull boss Christian Horner, who was speaking on behalf of the group, said it was still too early to make a decision.

"It wouldn't make sense to go and test there if the race wasn't to happen," said Horner. "We'll wait for feedback from FOM and the FIA and make a decision accordingly.

"We'll trust 100% in their decision. We're just looking at some alternatives [because] we don't know whether we can go to Bahrain.

"It's really unfortunate what's happening in Bahrain. It would be a great shame to lose the race."

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.

"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
Ecclestone hopeful on Bahrain GP
18 Feb 11 |  Formula 1
Sport and politics bound together
18 Feb 11 |  Formula 1
Bahrain troops 'fire on crowds'
18 Feb 11 |  Middle East
Angry Bahrainis bury their dead
18 Feb 11 |  Middle East
Bahrain tightens grip on protests
18 Feb 11 |  Middle East
Bahrain police break up protest
18 Feb 11 |  Middle East
Bahrain GP 'could be cancelled'
17 Feb 11 |  Formula 1
Bahrain quells GP security fears
16 Feb 11 |  Formula 1
Alonso triumphs as Vettel fades
14 Mar 10 |  Formula 1


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