/ 17 February 2011

Racing cancelled at F1 circuit amid Bahrain unrest

The GP2 Asia Series race in Bahrain was cancelled on Thursday amid anti-government protests that have left four dead overnight — less than a month before the season-opening Formula One race at the same circuit.

The Bahrain Grand Prix is scheduled for March 13, with F1 workers due to be in the country 10 days earlier.

Organisers said the race slated for Friday and Saturday was called off at request of the Bahrain Motorsport Federation “due to force majeure”.

No further information was available.

Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) has expressed confidence that the anti-government protests on the island nation in the Gulf would not prevent the running of next month’s F1 race.

“We are constantly in touch with both the national authorities and local authorities,” FIA spokesperson Norman Howell said. “We are monitoring the situation.”

Thousands of protesters poured into the country’s main square Tuesday in an Egypt-style rebellion that sharply escalated pressure on authorities. Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa made a rare national TV address, offering condolences for the deaths, pledging an investigation into the killings and promising to push ahead with reforms.

Riot police with tear gas and clubs early Thursday broke up a camp that anti-government protesters had set up on the square, killing four people, according to medical officials. Armed patrols prowled neighbourhoods throughout the day and tanks appeared in the streets for the first time.

Public gatherings were banned on Thursday and the city was virtually locked down.

F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone said in an interview with London’s Daily Telegraph on Tuesday that protesters could gain global attention by “making a problem on the start grid”. Ecclestone’s comments came after Nabeel Rajab, the vice president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, spoke of his fears the race could be targeted.

Shaikh Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa, chief executive officer of the Bahrain International Circuit, has said security remains of paramount concern and that it was also monitoring the situation. — Sapa-AP