Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone will rely on Bahrain’s crown prince to decide whether the season-opening grand prix will have to be cancelled due to unrest on the Gulf island.
The March 13 race has been cast into doubt over the last week as protests mounted, with people demanding the ruling monarchy gives up its near-absolute control over key policies and positions.
At least seven people have been killed and hundreds injured in the capital Manama, where the streets are lined with banners publicising Bahrain’s premier international event.
Ecclestone said a decision on whether to postpone the race is set to be taken by Tuesday by Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, who owns the F1 contract and is deputy supreme commander of the armed forces.
“If anyone’s going to sort it out he’s the right guy to do it,” Ecclestone told BBC radio on Sunday. “He would decide whether or not it’s safe for us to be there.”
The Foreign Office in Britain, where Ecclestone and several F1 teams are based, has warned against nonessential travel to Bahrain.
“Let’s wait until Tuesday and see if this one’s going to take place before we decide what to do,” Ecclestone said.
Ecclestone said the race could be moved to later in the season, but said it’s not feasible to move the race to another circuit on short notice.
“Well they’re probably not ready, just to pop these things on just like that,” Ecclestone said. “Let’s hope it will be all right as it’s already scheduled.”
After days of seesaw battles in which seven demonstrators were killed and hundreds wounded in battles around a landmark in Manama, government forces retreated Saturday and allowed protesters to reoccupy Pearl Square — giving demonstrators a victory, at least temporarily.
The streets of Bahrain were calmer Sunday as hundreds of marchers prepared to spend a second consecutive night in Manama’s Pearl Square, with some planning to stay longer.
Those trying to oust the island’s dynasty know they have an important political tool in the Bahrain GP, which has been held since 2004.
Already, protests forced the cancellation of a lower-tier GP2 Asia Series race this weekend.
The protesters are adamant that if the F1 race proceeds it would be an insult to the victims of the uprising and proof that the Sunni royal family, in power for 200 years, has not heard the demands of the Shi’ite population, which wants a larger share in the nation’s decision-making process.
The event brings worldwide attention to Bahrain thanks to F1’s enormous popularity, but it costs millions of dollars to put on in a country with a big gap between rich and poor.
Some protesters thinks the crown prince only offered talk to the opposition after the popular uprising cast doubt on the race.
“The race has been the prince’s dream since he was a child,” said Hasan Dhani, a 23-year-old protester “He wants to negotiate so he can fulfill this dream, and it makes me sad that his dream is more dear to him than the needs of his people.” — Sapa-AP