Bernie Ecclestone has confirmed he has no intention of calling off this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix despite continuing unrest now directly affecting the teams.
In the wake of Force India personnel being caught up in a petrol-bomb incident en route to Manama from the Bahrain International Circuit on Wednesday, Sauber have now confirmed members of their staff also witnessed trouble last night.
A Sauber statement read: “Yesterday night at 20:30hrs a minibus of the Sauber team left the circuit to go back to the Novotel in Manama.
“At 20:50hrs the 12 mechanics on that bus noticed fire on the medial strip of the highway.
“The traffic was slow, cars had their hazard flashers on. On the opposite lane there was no traffic.
“The team members saw a few masked people running from there over to their lane where a bottle was burning as well.
“The minibus moved to the very right side of the highway and went past the situation. No-one from the Sauber team was hurt.”
Sauber, though, have not followed the path trodden by Force India whose drivers did not compete in the second practice session.
In terms of safety, deputy team principal Bob Fernley decided it would be safer for his staff to leave the track in the comfort of daylight rather than risk returning to their hotel in the dark.
Ecclestone has confirmed to personally offering to drive back to the capital Manama with staff, without escorts.
“They were also told they could have security if they wanted,” said Ecclestone.
Asked if it was an over-reaction on the part of Force India, Ecclestone said: “No, I think you guys want a story, and it’s a good story.
“And if there isn’t a story you make it up as usual, so what difference. Nothing changes.”
But despite the obvious dangers, Ecclestone insists any decision to cancel the race is out of his hands, and instead has passed the buck to the Bahrainis.
“I can’t call this race off. Nothing to do with us. We’ve an agreement to be here, and we’re here,” said Ecclestone.
“The national sporting authority in this country can call the race off. You can ask the FIA if they can.”
Ecclestone again insisted F1 has no part to play in the politics of the gulf kingdom, even though the ruling al-Khalifa family are seemingly using the race as a tool to indicate all is well within their country.
“Political things go on like in so many countries. These things happen, but we’re not here to get involved in the politics,” said Ecclestone.
When it was suggested to Ecclestone the government were using the race for politics, he said: “I don’t understand how they can honestly be so stupid because if we weren’t here no-one would talk about Bahrain.
“There are other countries much higher up the priority list you should be writing about.
“Go to Syria and write about those things there because it’s more important than here.”
Ecclestone then glossed over the ongoing demonstrations that are being ramped up this week by stating: “It’s a lot of nonsense. You guys love it.
“What we really need is an earthquake or something like that now so you can write about that.”
On a more serious note, Fernley has confirmed his decision to withdraw from free practice was based purely on safety.
“We looked at it from the point of view of the well being of everybody, that the comfort of everybody is in place, and that’s the key objective for us,” said Fernley.
“But the team is absolutely fully committed to racing here. We will be there for qualifying and the race.”
It is understood a pitched battle ensued between demonstrators and police, with eight petrol bombs landing in the vicinity of the traffic hold-up in which the Force India car was caught, forcing the riot police to respond with tear gas.
None of the four were injured, however, the incident has sent a shockwave through the team and in Formula One in general.
Two team members, one of whom was in the car at the time, flew home yesterday citing their fears regarding safety.
Addressing the security concerns again, Fernley added: “We’ve had issues, as you all know.
“We have to make sure that the crew are comfortable in their environment, and that’s what we are working on.
“We have a plan which we are totally comfortable with, and totally committed to, so there are no issues with that at all.
“We’re doing the best we can to make sure the crew are safe. I don’t believe there will be issues, but there will be protests.
“Although what happened was an unfortunate incident, when it’s your team it happens to, you have to deal with it in a proper manner, which is what we’re doing.”