MANAMA (Reuters) - Leading Formula One team principals expressed confidence in security measures at the Bahrain Grand Prix on Friday even as police and protesters faced off with teargas and petrol bombs half an hour up the road.
On a day again dominated by politics and safety concerns, as well as a visit to the circuit by the country’s Crown Prince, those charged with running the teams battled to focus on motor racing.
The first question, posed by an official questioner, at a news conference organized by the governing International Automobile Federation (FIA) concerned the security situation however.
McLaren principal Martin Whitmarsh, whose championship-leading team are part-owned by Bahrain’s sovereign wealth fund Mumtalakat, said he was “comfortable”.
“Clearly we race as an international sport all over the world and we have security concerns and issues at a number or races and we take that very seriously, and we’re cautious, and we try to take the right precautions,” he said.
Mercedes motorsport vice-president Norbert Haug, Red Bull principal Christian Horner, Ferrari’s Stefano Domenicali, Force India’s Bob Fernley and Lotus boss Eric Boullier agreed.
They also backed Whitmarsh’s assertion that the team’s top priority was to go motor racing.
“Formula One is a sport at the end of the day and it’s wrong for it to be used politically. We’re here to race, we trust in the FIA, in the decisions that they made, and we’re comfortable with the decisions that they have made,” said Horner.
“For us, it’s about trying to extract the maximum from this weekend as a sporting team in a sporting championship.”
While teams have endeavored to focus on the sport rather than politics, with many of the drivers seemingly operating in a paddock bubble, the regular Formula One media has found itself writing more about protests than sport.
The outside world has also thrust itself onto Formula One with both the Force India and Sauber teams witnessing youths throwing petrol bombs while travelling from the circuit to hotels.
Some 10,000 pro-democracy protesters massed in Manama on Friday evening, the start of the weekend in the Middle East, with masked youths hurling petrol bombs at police who had stopped them marching to a traffic roundabout that was a gathering point during an uprising last year.
Reuters reporters at the scene said police responded by firing tear gas and sound bombs.
The press room has been unusually quiet by contrast, with many of the reduced group of reporters present at the race leaving early to return to hotels before nightfall.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by John Mehaffey