F1 monitoring Bahrain unrest ahead of race

London: Formula One bosses and race organisers kept a close eye on the civil unrest in Bahrain on Tuesday with less than a month to go before the season-opening grand prix there.

Thousands of Shi`ite protesters earlier marched into the capital Manama after a man was killed in clashes between police and mourners at a funeral for a demonstrator shot dead at an anti-government rally.

Protesters said their main demand was the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa who has governed the country since its independence in 1971.

"The safety of all Bahraini nationals, expats and overseas visitors is a priority at all times," Bahrain International Circuit assured fans and teams in a statement.

"We are monitoring the situation very closely indeed in association with the relevant authorities and will respond appropriately to any further developments."

Formula One`s commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone said he was doing likewise.

"We`ll rely on what they (local authorities) think the right thing to do is," he told the Daily Telegraph website when asked whether the race would be affected.

"The danger is obvious, isn`t it?" added the 80-year-old Briton. "If these people wanted to make a fuss and get worldwide recognition it would be easy, wouldn`t it?"

"You start making a problem on the start grid in Bahrain and it would get worldwide coverage."

"I have never had any problems in Bahrain in the past and I`m happy to walk around town there," added Ecclestone. "But we don`t know now. The world is changing."

The first grand prix of a season now extending to a record 20 races is scheduled for Bahrain`s Sakhir circuit on March 13. The 12 teams are also testing there the previous week.

Christian Horner, team boss of champions Red Bull, told Reuters he trusted Ecclestone to make the right decision.

"We rely on Bernie and FOM (Formula One Management) and the promoter to ensure that the facilities are obviously safe and hopefully this isn`t going to detract or affect the opening grand prix," he said.

"It would be a great shame if it did. but hopefully it can be resolved or not threaten the race by the time we arrive there in early March."

Horner also has a team competing at the circuit this weekend in the junior GP2 Asia series and was not aware of any problems.

"I spoke to the GP2 team yesterday and they didn`t mention any concerns and hopefully again that race will go ahead as planned," he said.

Many of the Formula One drivers are expected to stay in the region after the final pre-season test starting on March 3 and Horner recognised that there were always concerns about being targeted.

"However security, particularly in Bahrain, has always been particularly high whether it`s at the hotels or the circuit itself," he said at an event.

"The circuit`s always done an excellent job making sure that we feel safe and Bahrain has always been an enjoyable place to visit".

Bureau Report

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