Just days after F1 team bosses emerged from a meeting with representatives of both the sport's management and the Bahrain Grand Prix expressing satisfaction that there would be no problems visiting the country for this month's grand prix, further civil unrest has again raised question marks over its viability.
While the tension in Bahrain has never gone away, despite appearing to have lessened in recent months, the arguably more serious situation in other countries, such as Syria, has taken news headlines away from the Gulf state. However, despite the platitudes being bandied about by all sides, doubts have again been raised by outbreaks of violence reported since the weekend.
A civilian was killed after Bahraini police intervened in a demonstration in the Shia village of Salmabad using a combination of tear gas and rubber bullets. According to sources, the victim was filming the protest when plain clothes forces opened fire from an unmarked car. The protest was not the only one taking place, with further unrest in the villages of Abu Saiba and Tubli as opponents of the ruling party and government stepped up their objection to F1's arrival in a couple of weeks.
"We [object to the country] holding a sports race that belittles the sacrifices of our children and ignores our suffering and wounds," a statement read out in an online video claimed, "Do not tarnish the reputation of the respected auto sport with the blood of Bahrain victims."
Social media outlets such as Facebook
have been used to both rally supporters to the cause and push anti-F1 messages, as opponents of the event seek to have it called off for a second successive season. The 2011 race was postponed after demonstrators camped out at the Pearl Roundabout in the capital Manama, and called off completely after an embarrassing attempt to shoe-horn it back onto the schedule at the end of the year. There was thus some surprise when Bahrain was included on the 2012 calendar, but Bernie Ecclestone has always maintained that the country is safe enough to visit - and stage a grand prix. Seven time world champion Michael Schumacher has also voiced his support for the event [see separate story].
Indeed, even as Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, was released from interrogation pending a possible trial for his support of the demonstrations, Ecclestone continued to voice the shared belief that staging the race could be used as a means of uniting the people of Bahrain, despite the ruling Sunni minority showing no signs of relinquishing their grip on power, the main reason for the unrest which has now being going on for over a year.
"These people were brave enough at the beginning to start an event in that part of the world, and we'll be there as long as they want us," the F1 ringmaster said last week, "I'm absolutely sure that whatever is necessary [to ensure the security of F1 personnel] will be done. We've never been concerned about security in the past, and I don't understand why we should be now."
The teams, while appearing supportive of the event should it run, have apparently also been working on a means of returning to base directly from the Chinese Grand Prix, which is scheduled to run the weekend before Bahrain. With the suspicion that round four will be cancelled sometime during the Shanghai weekend, many are reported to have arranged alternative plans to ship equipment and personnel back via Dubai.