Racing officials in the Gulf kingdom were glowing after Ecclestone's endorsement. The circuit's chief executive, Sheik Salman bin Isa Al-Khalifa, told The Associated Press that the F1 was a force of good, and that it will boost the country's battered economy and help the deeply divided communities of Shiites and Sunnis move toward reconciliation.
Many Bahrainis agree that the race will at least bring some sense of normality back to the U.S.-allied island nation that has been the Gulf's oasis of openness and modernity before Dubai became the region's boomtown.
"I would like very much to see the Formula One happening in Bahrain, not because I love the sport but because it will help the business," said Farooq Mohammed, a shop assistant in Manama's gold and jewelry market.
Raed Ali, an 18-year-old high school student said he admired the rulers for supporting the race.
"I love the F1 and I really want to go this year," Ali said. "It's become a national sport that our leaders love very much."
Protesters, meanwhile, urged international teams and auto racing fans not to reward the Gulf nation with their presence amid the Arab Spring's longest-running street clashes.
"Whoever will come to Bahrain for the F1 is not welcome," said Fatima Mohammed, a 19-year-old protester, who's been filming tear gas engulfed clashes between riot police and protesters. "Our government is brutal and run by a greedy family, who cares only about power and money, not its people."
Surk reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates
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