Formula One teams relaxed about Bahrain tests
By Alan Baldwin
SEOUL (Reuters) - Formula One teams say they have no qualms about scheduling crucial pre-season tests in Bahrain next February after the restive Gulf kingdom's grand prix went ahead without incident this year.
The 2011 race had to be cancelled, due to civil unrest and the crushing of an anti-government uprising that cost at least 35 lives, and some rights activists have since urged teams and sponsors to stay away.
Teams have argued in their defense that Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone draws up the calendar and they are contractually obliged to race wherever he decides.
However, they do have a choice when it comes to testing venues and there were ready-made alternatives to Bahrain in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh, whose team is half-owned by Bahrain's Mumtalakat sovereign wealth fund, said attitudes had evolved since the height of the unrest.
"I think people are relaxed about going there based on their experience of this year," he told Reuters.
Bahrain circuit authorities said last weekend, during the Korean Grand Prix, that the Sakhir track would host pre-season tests from February 19-22 and February 27-March 2 next year.
Next year will be the 10th anniversary of the first race in Bahrain and organizers are planning a floodlit day-to-night event like the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Continued...