A support-race team and a respected journalist have become the next to pull out of this weekend’s highly controversial Bahrain grand prix.
The Porsche Supercup team MRS said its decision to skip the support race in the divided island Kingdom is the “first time in our history that we have had to cancel”.
“In the end we have the responsibility for our employees,” said team boss Karsten Molitor, citing security concerns.
Another withdrawal – joining the sacked Williams catering staff member, and the TV broadcasters Sky Deutschland, Fuji TV and MTV3 Finland – is the respected correspondent for O Estado de S.Paulo newspaper, Livio Oricchio.
“I have decided in agreement with Estado to not go,” he said. “We had the tickets for the entire season, except for Bahrain and the United States, because there was a doubt they would be run. Like many journalists, I will not be at Sakhir.
“I always believed that the race would not take place, and I’m still not 100 per cent sure that something will not happen that will lead the FIA or FOM to cancel.”
Indeed, following the sport’s decision to push ahead, the pressure on Formula One to cancel at the eleventh hour has only intensified. Nabeel Rajab, the leader of the government opposition group Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, admitted that the next protests – ‘three days of rage’, to coincide with the race’s three-day calendar – are aimed specifically at F1.
“We’re protesting to show anger at Formula One for conducting the race here,” he is quoted by the BBC.
And the wife of a well-known jailed Bahraini activist who is on a long hunger strike, added: “I am not angry with the government… what makes me angry is people like Ecclestone who decide to come to Bahrain because he thinks everyone is happy.”
Italy’s La Stampa reports that F1 personnel have been advised to stay away from restaurants and shops, while “girlfriends and wives stay at home”.
That’s not entirely true, as Felipe Massa touched down at the airport on Thursday with his wife and baby son. And Giedo van der Garde, the reserve driver for Caterham, said he has found Bahrain peaceful since his arrival on Wednesday.
“I’ve not been here long,” he is quoted by Auto Hebdo, “but everything seems quiet. Obviously, there’s a heavy police presence,” the Dutchman continued. “But I haven’t seen any trouble or anything. Let’s hope it stays like that.”
Marco Canseco, the correspondent for the Spanish sports daily Marca, said he witnessed a “minor altercation” in the capital Manama on Wednesday.
“Then all the teams and everybody were able to get to the track for work without a hitch, the same on return,” he revealed.
Many are protesting the race going ahead on moral grounds, others due to security fears, whilst others fear for F1’s image.
“The ongoing debate about Bahrain is the only damage to the high gloss of the exciting 2012 season so far,” agreed Austria’s Kleine Zeitung newspaper.