No Incidents At Bahrain F1 Grand Prix Despite Protests Prior To Sunday's Race
Protesters "blocked several roads and police fired teargas at a school in Bahrain on Sunday" as the Gulf state staged an F1 race "promoted by the government as pure sport but seen by the opposition as a public relations stunt," according to Alexander Dziadosz of REUTERS. Scores of police cars and a couple of armored vehicles "stood along the highway from the capital Manama to the race circuit," where the grand prix, won by F1 world champion Sebastian Vettel, took place without incident. Bahrain Centre for Human Rights VP Sayed Yousif al-Muhafda said, "The number of security in some areas is more than the number of protesters." Witnesses at the Sakhir desert circuit, roughly 30 km (20 miles) southwest of the capital, said that "there was no sign of unrest in the immediate vicinity." Asked for comment on the reported clashes, which included more of the near-nightly violence between police and youths in villages near the capital, an Interior Ministry official said only that "everything was normal" (REUTERS, 4/21). The BANGKOK POST reported witnesses said that "masked youths set alight tyres on roads in Shiite villages just outside Manama, but access remained open to the Sakhir circuit." Queues at the circuit "confirmed a heavy security presence as every vehicle slowed to pass through a single file inspection by gun-carrying security guards" (BANGKOK POST, 4/21).
'STUPID' COMMENT: In London, Paul Weaver reported F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone "has a habit for maladroitness that has become more noticeable as each of his 82 years has passed." But he "sounded alarm bells here when he seemingly called the Bahrain government 'stupid' for staging a grand prix because of the opportunities it presented to pro-democracy protesters." In fact, Ecclestone, who has this week been extremely positive toward a race that continues to attract negative press, "was trying to make a tongue-in-cheek remark and apparently it just came out wrong" (GUARDIAN, 4/20). Also in London, Kevin Eason reported "in the impetuous world of social media, the only word that stuck was 'stupid,'" although BBC sports correspondent Dan Roan, who conducted the interview, "was clear that Ecclestone was being ironic and that he meant that the government had given its opponents a platform for protest." Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, the race’s founder and heir to the Bahraini throne, said, "It’s Bernie being Bernie. We want to celebrate our connection to the international community, and it is a force for good. We are not ashamed of people of differing views. What we object to is people who use violence to further their own political goals" (LONDON TIMES, 4/20). In London, Paul Weaver reported "it required a refined level of tunnel vision to watch the Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday, to separate the actual event from the absurd circus that surrounded it, of politicians, PR people, royals, police, security staff and activists, all anxious to bring their own fervent spin to the proceedings." The Bahrain Int'l Circuit "can claim a victory, of sorts." There were "no breaches of security at the track." More than that, the teams said that "they actually felt safe." The paddock "was calm" (GUARDIAN, 4/21).
RULE CHECK: EUROSPORT reported Mercedes Team Principal Ross Brawn believes that F1 teams "should re-examine the gearbox penalty rules after Lewis Hamilton was handed a grid drop in Bahrain because of circumstances beyond his control." Hamilton "was moved back five places after he needed a gearbox change following damage caused by a debris-induced tyre failure." After hearing private frustrations from his driver about the situation -- because he was being moved back through no fault of his own -- Brawn thinks that "it could be worth F1 having a fresh discussion about the situation" (EUROSPORT, 4/21).