The curtain-raising F1 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix in less than a month's time has been cast into doubt after a local human rights group warned that the race 'is not going to be peaceful' due to anti-government protests, and Bernie Ecclestone conceded that 'the danger is obvious'.
The eighth edition of the Bahrain Grand Prix is scheduled to take place over the weekend of 11-13 March, but in company with the likes of fellow Arabic nations Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, the Yemen, Jordan and Iran, the desert kingdom has recently been rocked by political dissension and public riots against the incumbent authority.
The catalyst for the wave of unrest across North Africa and the Middle East was the revolt that successfully deposed Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali last month, whilst Egyptian counterpart Hosni Mubarak finally stepped down last week.
Protests that started out comparatively calmly have now become rather more volatile and increasingly violent, with two confirmed deaths following clashes with Bahraini police on Monday's anti-government 'Day of Rage'– and demonstrators have pinpointed the grand prix as the perfect international platform from which to publicise their plight to the world at-large.
“For sure, F1 is not going to be peaceful this time,” Nabeel Rajab, vice-president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, told Arabian Business
magazine. “There will be lots of journalists, a lot of people looking and [the government] will react in a stupid manner as they have done, and that will be bloody but more publicised. This will not stop, especially now when people have died. I don't think it's going to stop easily.”
The turn of events certainly has the sport's commercial rights-holder Ecclestone concerned, with the British billionaire well aware of the potential for the Sakhir race to become a prime target for disaffected activists seeking to overthrow the unpopular current regime and campaigning for greater political freedom and jobs.
“The danger is obvious, isn't it?” the Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive told The Daily Telegraph
. “If these people wanted to make a fuss and get worldwide recognition it would be bloody easy, wouldn't it? You start making a problem on the start grid in Bahrain, and it would get worldwide coverage.
“I have no idea [if the race might be cancelled should the situation deteriorate further]. It's hard to establish exactly what is going on. I'm speaking with the Crown Prince (Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa ) later on. We're watching events closely. We'll rely on what they think the right thing to do is.”