April 5 (Reuters) - Former world champion Damon Hill has called on Formula 1 bosses to reconsider going ahead with this month's controversial Bahrain Grand Prix and warned that the sport's image could suffer if the race is held.
The 1996 champion had previously supported the race after taking part in a fact-finding visit to Bahrain in December last year.
But he told the Guardian on Thursday he now felt a re-think was necessary for the event that was cancelled in 2011 following prolonged civil unrest that some reports claimed more than 40 lives.
Hill said: "What we must put above all else is what will be the penalty, in terms of human cost, if the race goes ahead?
"It would be a bad state of affairs, bad for F1, to be seen to be enforcing martial law to hold the race."
Hill added that he was worried that the race might create more problems than it solved if it went ahead as scheduled on April 22, a week after the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai.
Human rights activists and opposition groups in Bahrain, where unrest has continued daily, have called for the race to be cancelled again.
Hill explained: "Looking at it today, you'd have to say that it could be creating more problems than it's solving.
"The protests have not abated and may even have become more determined and calculated. It is a worrying state of affairs."
Bahrain race organisers held a lunch in London last week at which they argued that holding the grand prix would have an important unifying role in their strife-torn country.
And F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone said he has no doubts about going ahead, after persuading several teams -- including Red Bull, McLaren, Mercedes and Williams -- to send senior representatives to the lunch.
But Hill said: "The view I gave after returning from the visit last year was based on my understanding of several factors -- the substantial economic significance of the GP for Bahrain; that the report on the riots condemned the actions of the police and security forces, and that both sides were to take part in meaningful dialogue to resolve the problems peacefully.
"Under those conditions one could imagine the GP being a great fillip for a Bahrain on the road to recovery. However, with under three weeks to go, conditions do not seem to have improved, judging by the reports in our European newspapers, social media and on Al Jazeera TV.
"I'm just saying we have to tread carefully. I hope that events in Bahrain are not seen as they are often sold, as a bunch of yobs throwing Molotov cocktails, because that's a gross simplification.
"You don't get 100,000 people risking their lives in protest for nothing..."
Editing by Mitch Phillips