Bahrain Crown Prince insists grand prix will not bow to extremists
(CNN): Bahrain Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa has insisted Sunday’s grand prix in the Gulf kingdom will go ahead despite continued anti-government protests on the country’s streets.
As the first practice session got underway at the Sakhir circuit, the Crown Prince and Formula One chief Bernie Eccelstone defended the decision to press ahead with the race, amid continuing demonstrations.
The Force India team decided not to take part in Friday’s second practice session, opting to return to their hotel before night fell. On Thursday a petrol bomb exploded near a car carrying four of their staff back to the capital Manama.
The Bahrain Grand Prix was canceled twice in 2010 and several UK politicians, as well as human rights group Amnesty International, have called for this year’s installment to be shelved.
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On the track, Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg continued the impressive form which saw him clinch his first ever F1 victory at last week’s Chinese Grand Prix by posting the fastest overall time.But at an impromptu press conference, the Crown Prince was inundated with questions relating to off-track matters.
He said: “Canceling the race just empowers extremists. For those of us trying to navigate a way out of this political problem, having the race allows us to build bridges across communities and celebrate our nation as an idea that is positive not divisive.
“We are not trying to say we are perfect, we are a real country with real issues. I genuinely believe this race is a force for good, it unites many people from many religious backgrounds under the roof of Formula One.
“This race should continue because it a big event for this country, it is important economically and socially. I absolutely can guarantee that any problems that may or may not happen are not directed at Formula One.
“There are people who are out to cause chaos. The attack that happened around Force India was aimed at the police, it was unprovoked and quite dangerous. At no time was anyone from Formula One in danger.
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“I’m very confident that protests which will happen at some point, there’s one today, is part of the political process in any country. The race is the race and we are here to celebrate that. I’m here to go racing.”
Eccelstone maintained that the protests in Bahrain and the arrival of Formula One were unrelated. “If people have got a complaint about something else it is nothing to do with F1.”
On the track, German Rosberg was half a second clear of Red Bull’s Mark Webber in practice, while reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel came fourth. McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton was fourth with Rosberg’s teammate Michael Schumacher sixth.
Rosberg told his team’s official website his fast pace represented a good start to the weekend: “Whilst it’s nice to be quickest today, we know that doesn’t count. The most important thing still is to improve our race pace.”For the moment, it looks reasonable but we need to analyze where we are on high fuel levels compared to our competitors and draw our conclusions. The conditions are really tough out there, so the race will be quite demanding from the tire perspective.”
Force India chose not to participate in the afternoon session so their staff could return to the team’s hotel before dark.
Their decision comes a day after four of their team were caught up in an anti-government protest on their way back from the track, when a petrol bomb was thrown near to their car.
Deputy team principal Robert Fearnley told CNN World Sport: “The most important thing for us is that we’ve got to have the well being of our crew foremost in our minds. That is what the objective was.
“Unfortunately we had an experience that was uncomfortable on Wednesday evening. We haven’t seen anything since, there hasn’t been any issues since, it was just an unfortunate destabilizing program.”