Force India, Ecclestone, deny Bahrain GP boycott

Force India deputy boss Bob Fernley has dismissed reports the Silverstone based team could pull out of the controversial Bahrain grand prix.

Two members of the team were allowed to return to Europe this week following a Molotov cocktail attack en route from the Sakhir circuit to the hotel. There were high-level meetings involving Force India on Thursday, sparking speculation the entire team could follow its frightened members back to the UK.

But Fernley, admitting that security has been ramped up after the incident, is quoted by Express newspaper: “We are definitely taking part, that is decided.”

Bahrain’s information affairs authority also released a statement featuring quotes by Bernie Ecclestone.

“I have no knowledge of any teams planning to withdraw from the race and we are all looking forward to racing in Bahrain,” the F1 chief executive said.

According to Telegraph correspondent Tom Cary, however, another incident like the one involving Force India this week could force F1 to change its decision to go ahead with the race.

“If that happened again and someone was injured then that’s the nightmare scenario for organisers as it might push the teams over the edge,” he said.

Many drivers, like Kimi Raikkonen, have said the situation is normal this weekend in Bahrain, but Cary does not agree.

“Normally there would be PR events in town, you know, ‘meet the fans’ and that sort of thing but certainly as far as I’m aware there aren’t any of those happening,” he said.

World champion Sebastian Vettel said he will be happy when track action begins on Friday.

“I think it’s not a big problem,” the German said when asked about the security situation this weekend, “and I’m happy once we start testing tomorrow because then we worry about the stuff that really matters — tyre temperatures, cars.”

Earlier, Vitaly Petrov’s manager indicated the Russian would only travel to Bahrain if F1 could guarantee his safety.

“If it was dangerous they wouldn’t let us in,” the Caterham driver told The National in Bahrain.

“If they make sure nothing gets thrown onto that track to hurt us, then we’ll be fine. We are here; if it happens, it happens,” added Petrov.

In fact, almost everyone in Bahrain has been reluctant to comment in detail, but there is an obvious feeling of unease.

Peter Sauber told Blick newspaper: “I feel like a guest, and so it is not polite to criticise your host.”

But 1996 world champion Damon Hill allowed himself some criticism of F1, including the sport’s most powerful figures, Bernie Ecclestone and Jean Todt.

He pointed out that FIA president Todt has said “next to nothing” about the Bahrain saga.

“This I find baffling,” Hill wrote in the Guardian. “Surely it is possible to condemn acts of inhumanity without taking a side?”

As for F1 chief executive Ecclestone, who has consistently trivialised the Bahrain issue, Hill noted that “few” in the paddock “dare to publicly disagree” with the imperious 81-year-old.

“Perhaps we should (criticise him), instead of just muttering under our breath, scared of losing our passes,” said Hill.

Hermann Tilke, the German architect who designed the Sakhir circuit, sees the entire saga as a storm in a teacup.

“It is safe in Bahrain,” Tilke, whose company has an office there, told the Kolner Express newspaper. “I’ve never heard about any problems from our people.

“Of course there is some unrest, but it is protests, not civil war. As Bernie Ecclestone has said, we do sports, not politics,” he insisted.

“And if they demonstrate peacefully now, the media will report on it, so both sides benefit.”


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