April 12, 2012

Formula One's governing body said the Bahrain Grand Prix will go ahead as planned despite ongoing political instability in the country and threats by some groups to disrupt the event.

In a statement issued early Friday, the FIA said: "Based on the current information the FIA has at this stage, it is satisfied that all the proper security measures are in place.

"Therefore, the FIA confirms that the 2012 Gulf Air F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain will go ahead as scheduled."

The race will be held on April 22 at the Sakhir circuit.

The statement said FIA President Jean Todt visited Bahrain in November last year and had met elected Shia members of parliament, the president of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, ambassadors from the European Union countries, the Crown Prince, the Interior Minister and local businessmen to discuss the political situation of the country and viability of the race.

"All expressed their wish for the Grand Prix to go ahead in 2012, and since then, the FIA has kept in close touch with all these stakeholders. "Away from the public eye, the FIA has received regular security briefings from the most senior diplomatic officials based in the kingdom as well as from other independent experts."

The FIA said it had received no request from the Bahraini government or the F1 commercial rights holder, led by Bernie Ecclestone, to cancel the event.

It was canceled last year, and pressure had been growing for a similar withdrawal in 2012 because of ongoing clashes between security forces and anti-government protesters in the sectarian dispute. The crackdown has left at least 50 people dead.

Ecclestone, however, said Thursday at the Chinese GP that he saw no need for F1 to avoid Bahrain. He plans to meet with the F1 teams on Friday for discussions, but stressed that wouldn't change the situation.

"I don't see any difference between here (China) and Bahrain," Ecclestone said. "It's the same. It's another race on the calendar."

Bahrain's Sunni leaders and race organizers remain committed to going ahead as a way of showing the divided Persian Gulf island nation is moving past the strife of the past year and coming together again.

Bahrain's circuit chairman said earlier this week that extremist groups are using "scare-mongering tactics" to make the unrest seem worse than it is to force the cancellation of the race.

Amid the ongoing turmoil in the country, human rights groups have criticized the race being reinstated this year. Protesters have galvanized supporters by incorporating anti-F1 chants in their marches, putting anti-F1 posters on walls and criticizing Ecclestone and F1 drivers in online posts.

Amnesty International is also planning to release a report next week on the eve of the race detailing the numbers of protesters in Bahraini jails and the human rights violations that it says are still being committed by security forces.

Many drivers avoided talking about the situation on Thursday. When six of them were asked at a news conference whether they had any moral problems with competing in Bahrain, all six sat completely still and didn't say a word.

Reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel also deflected questions about the race.

"No Bahrain questions. Ask the people in the paddock," he said. "Maybe I don't watch enough TV."

His Red Bull teammate Mark Webber, however, noted the difficulty of the position the drivers have been put in.

"Ultimately, we are all human. We have morals, we have ways we see things," he said. "We like to think that people and situations are fair and everything is, as I suppose, correct as we would like it to be.

"As a grand prix driver, I'm contracted to the team, they're contracted to the FIA. They hold a 20-round world championship. We go to those venues and race. And that's where it is."

Ferrari's Fernando Alonso said any decision is out of the drivers' hands.

"We need to trust the FIA in which the people that have all the information," he said. "As personal point of view, the sport is made to help some kinds of these situations. If doing the race, the sport can help the people there, that can be a good thing - we will be good to go. If it is the opposite, if the sport can be a problem, so it is no good to go. We will accept any decision."

Webber was equivocal when asked if he thought the country would be safe for drivers, officials and workers.

"We need to trust the people making the decision that they know how these people are going to operate," he said. "That's what it comes down to at the end of the day. You and I don't know. And that's what we're going to find out."

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