Formula One last night came under attack from cyber anarchists as part of the latest anti-Bahrain Grand Prix protests.
Anonymous, the internet hacking organisation, announced earlier yesterday they would turn the formula1.com website into “a smoking crater in cyberspace”.
The attack, under the title of ’Operation Bahrain’ after watching what they perceive as “the incredible human rights abuses of the Bahrain regime”, was unleashed shortly after Crown Prince Salman had defiantly stated this weekend’s race will go ahead.
F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone had earlier insisted it was down to the Bahrainis to cancel their grand prix, passing the buck on to his Royal Highness, who duly responded.
The Crown Prince, who brought the race to the Gulf island in 2004 as the Middle East embraced the sport for the first time, has no intention of a late call off despite increased security fears.
Tensions in the paddock have risen this week in light of the two incidents encountered by Force India and Sauber, with the former withdrawing from second practice as part of new safety measures.
It meant team personnel left the Bahrain International Circuit at 5pm before darkness fell in order to avoid any issues.
At that time a group of 50,000-plus protesters had failed in an attempt to reach the former Pearl Roundabout, the symbolic site of last year’s crushed uprising.
Riot police eventually dispersed the throng with rounds of tear gas and pepper spray, along with sound bombs, resulting in three arrests and at least five injuries from shotgun pellets.
Regardless of the violence that continues to overshadow his race, Prince Salman insisted it was “a force for good”.
He added: “It unites many people from many different religious backgrounds, sects and ethnicities, under the roof of Formula One.
“This race should continue because it is indeed a very big event for this country, important economically, socially.
“Political parties from the whole spectrum, both conservative and opposition, have welcomed the race.
“I also think cancelling the race just empowers extremists.
“For those of us trying to navigate a way out of this political problem, having the race allows us to build bridges across communities, to get people working together.
“It allows us to celebrate our nation. It is an idea that is positive, not one that is divisive.
“So I actually think having the race has prevented extremists from doing what they think they need to do for the world’s attention.”
As for Ecclestone’s website, Anonymous have vowed it will remain under attack for the remainder of this grand prix weekend.
They further claimed to Ecclestone they would “jam phone lines, bomb e-mail inboxes, and wreck anything else of yours we can find on the internet”.
For his part, Ecclestone believes F1 this week, with the international media in tow, has done the protesters a favour.
“This race has given them an incredible platform for all you guys (the media) to talk to them,” said Ecclestone.
“They say they talk about democracy, which is freedom of speech. They’ve had all the freedom in the world to talk to you guys.”
What unfolded off track completely overshadowed the action on it, with the two 90-minute practice sessions culminating in debut-race winner in China in Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg emerging quickest.
The team, however, have serious tyre concerns which are unlikely to affect them in qualifying today, but could figure prominently in the race on Sunday.
Behind Rosberg were the Red Bulls of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel, with the McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button fourth and sixth.