Bahrain reassures F1 teams, fans of safety

BARBARA SURK Associated Press Published:

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- All measures will be taken to ensure the safety of Formula One teams and fans during the grand prix in Bahrain next month, the chief executive of the Bahrain International Circuit said Wednesday.

Bahrain has been in political turmoil for a year. The 2011 Bahrain GP was canceled because of a wave of anti-government protests and punishing government crackdowns. At least 50 people have been killed in the unrest.

Sheik Salman bin Isa Al-Khalifa told The Associated Press that Bahrain was safe. He said the country was ready to stage the F1 race the Gulf island nation has been hosting since 2004.

"The country has moved on and we are on the path of reconciliation," Sheik Salman said in a phone interview. A "global event with so much exposure" will benefit Bahrain economically and politically, he added.

"There will be so much good with Formula One back in Bahrain. I am confident that all measures will be taken to ensure the safety of the teams and fans."

He added no additional security measures will be in place for the race on April 22 despite the ongoing political strife in Bahrain.

"To be honest, every year the standard of security is high, not just in the Formula One race, but for any sporting event like this," Salman said. "Our country has always handled well events of this nature."

The chairman of the circuit claimed that it can be just as dangerous in the United States or England.

"I've been mugged in New York twice and I still go back," Zayed R. Alzayani said at an event in London. "My brother was mugged outside Harrods (department store in London). Somebody stuck a knife to him and took off his Rolex (watch), but he still comes to London 10 times a year. These incidents can happen anywhere. It's not going to stop our grand prix."

Alzayani did accept there were "some isolated clashes with police in villages, but some of them are tiny -- 10 to 15 people."

"It's nothing, yet it gets blown out of all proportion and it makes it sound bad, that the whole nation is rising up," he said.

Last week, F1 world champions Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher backed the decision to go ahead with the Bahrain GP despite opposition to the race and almost daily street confrontations between security forces and opposition supporters.

Human rights groups have criticized the decision of the world racing body to reinstate the Bahrain race this year. Bahrain's Shiite majority is demanding more rights and opportunities, equal to the Sunni minority that rules Bahrain.

In February, an opposition group that has been the driving force of the yearlong uprising wrote to F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone demanding that the race be canceled.

The letter by the Coalition Youth of the 14 Feb Revolution said "organizing an F1 race in Bahrain at a time when children are being killed in the streets at the hands of the regime mercenaries will haunt the F1 reputation forever and will imprint it with the image of death and human rights violations."

Formula One remains committed to staging next month's Bahrain GP, according to Ecclestone after lunching with circuit executives and several team bosses on Wednesday.

"Of course the race is going to happen. No worries at all," Ecclestone said.

"People say to me, 'There's not going to be a race.' And I say 'Well how do you know?' And they tell me they saw or read something, but it's all nonsense. "These people (the Bahrainis) were brave enough to start an event in that part of the world, and that's it. We'll be there as long as they want us."

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said he had received reassurances from the governing body, FIA, about the situation in Bahrain.

"We have to trust in their judgment," he said. "Safety is something they take very seriously, so they've conducted various studies and tours, and obviously been closely involved with the promoters of the event."