| SHANGHAI, April 16
SHANGHAI, April 16 Formula One teams and drivers
may be reluctant racers in Bahrain this weekend but they need
not worry about their safety, according to circuit chairman
Zayed Al Zayani.
Speaking to Reuters before the first members of the
travelling circus arrived in the troubled Gulf kingdom on
Monday, Al Zayani said the decision to go ahead with the
controversial grand prix was not putting anyone at risk.
"We wouldn't take a decision on a gamble," he said at the
Chinese Grand Prix.
"I think it's a calculated decision, we've weighed our
options and we are committed to the grand prix and to its
"I don't think anything drastic will happen. It's not
Afghanistan, it's not Syria. I don't see why anything should
happen this year that hasn't happened in the previous years,"
added the Bahraini.
Formula One's governing body said last Friday that the race
would be going ahead, despite calls from activists for it to be
cancelled due to continuing unrest with regular clashes between
police and anti-government protesters.
Three teenagers were wounded later that day at a rally in
Manama after the funeral of a man shot during a protest two
Petrol bombs were thrown at police, who used tear gas. More
demonstrations have been called for this week leading up to the
grand prix, the biggest sporting event in Bahrain and one
broadcast to a global television audience of many millions.
Last year's race had to be cancelled due to the February
uprising and Formula One, whose teams have been deeply uneasy
about going to Bahrain but have binding contracts to do so, has
not returned since March 2010.
"You have some stuff going on in villages, but it's nothing
that can't be handled," said Al Zayani. "I have no doubt at all
that Formula One is not a target, not the teams, not the media."
Some drivers flew in on Monday, although others were
spending time relaxing in nearby Dubai or Abu Dhabi. Advance
personnel from Formula One Management have been in Manama for
some days already.
Some freight is already in Bahrain while the cars should
arrive at the circuit on Tuesday. Practice for the fourth race
of the season starts on Friday and Formula One supremo Bernie
Ecclestone has said he will be at the track.
Al Zayani said it was safe to go racing, even if there were
some demonstrations across the tiny island.
"I think they (the protesters) will probably look out for
the media to try and get their message abroad, which is fine.
Let them express their opinion," he said.
The race is important financially for Bahrain, with
organisers saying it brings in some half a billion dollars in
"The country has gone through a tough year, we are still
wounded in some aspects or another and we are on the way to
regaining our health, so to speak. I think the race will be
positive to the country," Al Zayani said.
"We need it as a country, we deserve it. I think we have
passed the worst of the incidents and we need help to restore
the country back on track."
Last year's bloody crackdown on protesters left more than 30
dead and has been condemned by international human rights groups
while the decision to race has divided opinion.
Within Formula One, some television broadcasters have
decided not to go while a member of the Williams catering staff
has left the team by mutual agreement after she refused to
travel on ethical grounds.
Much of the world media, particularly in Britain where a
majority of the teams are based, has been opposed to the race
Al Zayani suggested some of the other countries on the
calendar had worse human rights records and questioned the
motivation of some of the critics.
"I think every time we plug a hole about Bahrain, something
else seems to pop up," he said. "I sometimes wonder and ask
myself what is it that they've got against Bahrain? Are they
just trying to find anything to spoil the race?"
(Editing by John O'Brien)