Formula 1: FIA prepares to rule on Bahrain race

AP, Thursday 2 Jun 2011

Formula One's governing body is set to decide Friday whether to reschedule the Bahrain Grand Prix for later this season, with some drivers and team officials saying the race should just be scrapped this year

F1 Bahrain race
Ferrari Formula One driver Fernando Alonso of Spain leads F1 Bahrain race in 2010. (Photo: Reuters)

Bahrain organizers insist they are ready to host the race, which was meant to open the season but was postponed following anti-government protests in February that eventually left at least 30 dead following a brutal crackdown.

The Bahraini government lifted emergency rule on Wednesday, and the FIA's World Motor Council will decide on a rescheduling when it gathers in Barcelona on Friday.

Local organizers are hoping for a date around the Nov. 13 Abu Dhabi GP, which could push the season into December.

While F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone is in favor of that proposal, which could also mean rescheduling the maiden Indian GP which is set for Oct. 30, there is some resistance in the F1 paddock.

"I'm always in favor of racing more but I think we lost the moment. It had to be when we were there, during the Asian leg of touring," Williams driver Rubens Barrichello said. "It's too tiring, too much to do now." Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn said any decision that stretched the season to December was "totally unacceptable" since team crews will be left with little time for a break.

On Wednesday, the military withdrew from the center of Manama but kept police at numerous checkpoints around the city.

Zayed Rashid Alzayani, chairman of the Bahrain International Circuit, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the Gulf country was ready to "hold the race today." "We feel we are in position to have that event back," Alzayani said. "Things have calmed down tremendously in Bahrain. Life is back to normal. We are happy to have the race anytime really." Friday is also the day Bahrain's Shiite opposition groups called on its supporters to return to the streets _ the first such appeal since martial law was declared March 15 to quell dissent in the Gulf kingdom. No major rallies took place since Bahrain's army overran the protest center at Manama's Pearl Square March 17 although several anti-government demonstrations were reported across the tiny island nation on Wednesday when emergency rule expired, signaling more unrest.

However, Ecclestone also felt reassured that the wave of protests that led to the March 13 opener being postponed would not be repeated.

"We would not have any problem, but if someone wants to get attention that would be a good way to do it," Ecclestone said. "From a safety point of view I don't think there is anything to worry about." But some human rights groups recently stepped up calls for the race to stay off the calendar, while global online community AVAAZ had gathered over 41,000 signatures by Thursday afternoon from an online petition calling for leading team Red Bull and the rest of the field to boycott a rescheduled Bahrain GP.

Lotus driver Heikki Kovalainen said he didn't want to discuss the political ramifications of racing in Bahrain, but that he trusted the FIA to make the right decision.

"If people decide to go, if it is OK to go there with F1 then I guess there will be good reason for that," Kovalainen said.  "If we don't go, fine. But I haven't followed it, I'm not a politician."

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