Ecclestone: Race still on unless pulled by Bahrain

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By JUSTIN BERGMAN, Associated Press

SHANGHAI, China (AP) — Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone said Thursday that the Bahrain Grand Prix will go ahead next week as scheduled — unless national authorities decide to cancel the race.

Pressure has been growing for the April 22 race to be canceled for the second straight year because of ongoing clashes between security forces and anti-government protesters. The crackdown has left at least 50 people dead.

However, Ecclestone said ahead of the Chinese GP that there had been no change of plans.

"The race is on the calendar. Unless it gets withdrawn by the national sporting authority in the country, we will be there," he said.

Ecclestone 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.

Bahrain's circuit chairman said 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.

Last year, Bahrain organizers canceled the race after an attempt to reschedule it by motor sport's world governing body (FIA) was criticized by rights groups, F1 teams and fans.

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 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."

Mark Webber of Red Bull 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, who is coming off a victory at the Malaysian GP last month, said any decision is out of the drivers' hands.

"I think 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 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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AP Sports Writer Michael Casey in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

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