Skip to main content

Bahrain Crown Prince insists grand prix will not bow to extremists

April 20, 2012 -- Updated 1652 GMT (0052 HKT)
Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa (R) and F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone face the press Friday
Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa (R) and F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone face the press Friday
  • Bahrain Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa insists grand prix will go ahead
  • Practice for Sunday's race takes place despite anti-government protests in Gulf kingdom
  • Force India team decide no to race in second practice session to return to their team hotel
  • Mercedes' Nico Rosberg is fastest during practice for Sunday's grand prix

(CNN) -- Bahrain Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa has insisted Sunday's grand prix in the Gulf kingdom will go ahead despite continued anti-government protests on the country's streets.

As the first practice session got underway at the Sakhir circuit, the Crown Prince and Formula One chief Bernie Eccelstone defended the decision to press ahead with the race, amid continuing demonstrations.

The Force India team decided not to take part in Friday's second practice session, opting to return to their hotel before night fell. On Thursday a petrol bomb exploded near a car carrying four of their staff back to the capital Manama.

The Bahrain Grand Prix was canceled twice in 2010 and several UK politicians, as well as human rights group Amnesty International, have called for this year's installment to be shelved.

Why is Bahrain F1 race under fire?

On the track, Mercedes' Nico Rosberg continued the impressive form which saw him clinch his first ever F1 victory at last week's Chinese Grand Prix by posting the fastest overall time.

Bahrain uneasy ahead of Grand Prix
Security concerns in Bahrain
On patrol with Bahrain's riot police
Protests against the Bahrain GP have intensified in recent weeks. This graffiti was posted on a wall in the village of Barbar, west of the capital Manama, in April. Protests against the Bahrain GP have intensified in recent weeks. This graffiti was posted on a wall in the village of Barbar, west of the capital Manama, in April.
F1 race stirs up Bahrain activists
Controversy over Bahrain\'s Formula One race Controversy over Bahrain's Formula One race

But at an impromptu press conference, the Crown Prince was inundated with questions relating to off-track matters.

He said: "Canceling the race just empowers extremists. For those of us trying to navigate a way out of this political problem, having the race allows us to build bridges across communities and celebrate our nation as an idea that is positive not divisive.

"We are not trying to say we are perfect, we are a real country with real issues. I genuinely believe this race is a force for good, it unites many people from many religious backgrounds under the roof of Formula One.

"This race should continue because it a big event for this country, it is important economically and socially. I absolutely can guarantee that any problems that may or may not happen are not directed at Formula One.

"There are people who are out to cause chaos. The attack that happened around Force India was aimed at the police, it was unprovoked and quite dangerous. At no time was anyone from Formula One in danger.

Vettel aims to bounce back in Bahrain

"I'm very confident that protests which will happen at some point, there's one today, is part of the political process in any country. The race is the race and we are here to celebrate that. I'm here to go racing."

Eccelstone maintained that the protests in Bahrain and the arrival of Formula One were unrelated. "If people have got a complaint about something else it is nothing to do with F1."

On the track, German Rosberg was half a second clear of Red Bull's Mark Webber in practice, while reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel came fourth. McLaren's Lewis Hamilton was fourth with Rosberg's teammate Michael Schumacher sixth.

Rosberg told his team's official website his fast pace represented a good start to the weekend: "Whilst it's nice to be quickest today, we know that doesn't count. The most important thing still is to improve our race pace.

Canceling the race just powers extremists
Bahrain crown prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa

"For the moment, it looks reasonable but we need to analyze where we are on high fuel levels compared to our competitors and draw our conclusions. The conditions are really tough out there, so the race will be quite demanding from the tire perspective."

Force India chose not to participate in the afternoon session so their staff could return to the team's hotel before dark.

Their decision comes a day after four of their team were caught up in an anti-government protest on their way back from the track, when a petrol bomb was thrown near to their car.

Deputy team principal Robert Fearnley told CNN World Sport: "The most important thing for us is that we've got to have the well being of our crew foremost in our minds. That is what the objective was.

"Unfortunately we had an experience that was uncomfortable on Wednesday evening. We haven't seen anything since, there hasn't been any issues since, it was just an unfortunate destabilizing program."

Part of complete coverage on
April 20, 2012 -- Updated 1634 GMT (0034 HKT)
What are the issues around the controversy over the Bahrain grand prix, and how are the sport and its fans reacting?
April 20, 2012 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
Motorsport journalist Ed Foster believes F1 chiefs are repeating past mistakes by going ahead with the race in Bahrain.
April 19, 2012 -- Updated 1636 GMT (0036 HKT)
Two members of Force India's Formula One team have left Bahrain after a petrol bomb was thrown at one of the marque's cars during an anti-government protest.
April 18, 2012 -- Updated 1825 GMT (0225 HKT)
Nearly 60 Bahraini activists turned out Wednesday in downtown Manama calling for the release of hunger striker Abdulhadi al-Khawaja.
April 19, 2012 -- Updated 1646 GMT (0046 HKT)
CNN's Fred Pleitgen rides along with Bahrain's police as they try to contain protests before the Formula One Grand Prix.
April 18, 2012 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Bahrain Grand Prix bosses have made a "calculated decision" to go ahead with the controversial race, claiming civil rights protests have nothing to do with the event.
April 17, 2012 -- Updated 1122 GMT (1922 HKT)
Human rights reforms in Bahrain are inadequate, according to a report from Amnesty International.
April 14, 2012 -- Updated 1357 GMT (2157 HKT)
Motorsport's governing body has ended uncertainty over the Bahrain Grand Prix by issuing a statement confirming that the F1 race will go ahead.
April 13, 2012 -- Updated 1403 GMT (2203 HKT)
Should sport and politics mix? Bernie Ecclestone has told CNN that they should not -- and that is why he is happy for Bahrain to host a Formula One race despite protests from human rights groups.
April 13, 2012 -- Updated 1057 GMT (1857 HKT)
Seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher has dismissed security fears ahead of next week's Bahrain Grand Prix.
April 12, 2012 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Bahrain Grand Prix organizers insist that the Gulf kingdom's Formula One race will go ahead despite mounting pressure for it to be scrapped.
April 11, 2012 -- Updated 2229 GMT (0629 HKT)
Formula One teams, including world champions Red Bull, tell CNN they will not unilaterally pull out of the Bahrain Grand Prix.
April 10, 2012 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
A global human rights organization has called on Bahraini authorities to release a jailed activist who's in poor health after a more than two-month hunger strike.