Bahrain GP will go ahead, says FIA
Shanghai: The Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix will go ahead as scheduled next week, the governing FIA said on Friday, despite continuing anti-government protests like those which forced the cancellation of the race last year.
The International Automobile Federation (FIA) said in a statement that it had received regular security briefings from senior diplomatic officials in the Gulf kingdom and was satisfied it was safe for the race to proceed.
The announcement reflected the views of Formula One`s commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone, who told Reuters at the Chinese Grand Prix on Thursday that the April 22 race was on unless local sporting authorities asked for it to be cancelled.
Team principals, some of them known to be unhappy about competing in Bahrain against a backdrop of continuing violence, were to meet 81-year-old Ecclestone at the Shanghai circuit on Friday.
Frenchman Jean Todt, the FIA president, was due to be at the track on Saturday.
"Based on the current information the FIA has at this stage, it is satisfied that all the proper security measures are in place for the running of a Formula One World Championship event in Bahrain," said the FIA statement.
"Therefore, the FIA confirms that the 2012 F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain will go ahead as scheduled."
The race will be the fourth round of the 20-race season.
Last year`s event was delayed, then ultimately cancelled, after an uprising in February by mostly Shi`ite pro-democracy demonstrators demanding a greater say in government and better access to jobs and housing.
Bahrain`s monarchy quashed the revolt with the help of security forces from Saudi Arabia, and more then 30 people have been killed. Late on Thursday, an explosion shook the capital Manama, damaging two cars, the Interior Ministry said.
Some opposition activists have dubbed the big-money race a "tool of repression" and made repeated calls for it to be cancelled.
The sport`s governing body had been expected to wait and see how the situation unfolded after Friday prayers - a time when street protests are often triggered in Bahrain - before making any official decision.
Another factor weighing on a tense situation has been the health of jailed rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, on hunger strike for two months, who was moved to a military hospital this week with conflicting reports about his condition.
The FIA statement said the governing body had to make "rational decisions" based on information provided by the Bahrain authorities and Ecclestone while also assessing the ongoing situation.
Todt, who was strongly supported by Bahrain in his election campaign and visited the country last November on a "fact-finding mission" after the 2012 calendar was ratified, had made no secret of his desire for the race to go ahead if conditions allowed.
Bahrain was the first country in the Middle East to host a grand prix and has considerable influence in Formula One, with a representative on the FIA`s decision-making World Motor Sport Council.
The country`s sovereign wealth fund Mumtalakat also owns 42 percent of McLaren Group, whose team are currently leading the Formula One championship.