Who says that the race will go on? None other than multibillionaire F1 impresario and ringleader Bernie Ecclestone. (NOTE: Ex-Renault boss and arch-Eurotrash Flavio Briatore only has a store selling overpriced clothes called "Billionaire" when he himself isn't one.) So despite the potential CSR difficulties and the unsavouriness of it all, keeping the youth in check has made Ecclestone think the organizers have matter under control for sporting commerce to occur:
The latest opinion from the man representing the grand prix organisers is that it's all systems go for the Bahrain Grand Prix. We're exactly a year on from the day when the Bahraini people rose up against the ruling royal family and on the first anniversary of the protest there were few organized protests on the streets, mostly because the police had managed to keep a firm lid on them. This has heartened Bernie.Keep the brats away from the TV cameras and let the race continue? When it's become more an issue of riot control than a question of sport, well, some are more likely to raise their eyebrows than our man Bernie. While noting that his company has been paid the $40M fee by the organizers whether the race happens or not, Ecclestone says it's no longer about the money. Sports and politics...it's been a combustible mix oftentimes, hence the technocratic reply from Bernie that he's just doing his job:
"We are (still) planning to go (to the Grand Prix). I've always said that if there was going to be any drama it would be on the Day of Rage," he told The Daily Telegraph. "They would have to do something then. People there seem confident that a race two months away will be all right."
For the Day of Rage, apart from demolishing the focus of last year's protest, Pearl Roundabout, large parts of the capital Manama were sealed off to prevent people reaching the site. In 2011 the government weren't expecting trouble, they reacted badly and all hell let loose. This year they were a lot more prepared. Armoured vehicles patrolled Bahrain's capital with police firing tear gas at protesters. That may prevent, headline-grabbing clips for the TV news, but it doesn't make the problem go away.
Mr E. thinks there isn't a scintilla of doubt that this year the Sakhir circuit is going to reverberate to the sound of 24 V8 engines. "The teams are not the slightest bit concerned. They seem happy that things will go ahead without problems. Last year was a more clear-cut decision not to go but things have changed a lot since then...[t]he only message I got was that there were some kids in trouble with the police," Ecclestone said.
One group of peers has called for a boycott of the country, whose authorities were found guilty of numerous human rights abuses last year. Another All-Party group of MPs is keen for the race to go ahead, believing it can be a catalyst for change.
While human rights groups such as Amnesty International remain sceptical that Bahrain's rulers are delivering the human rights changes recommended by an independent international commission, the man who chaired that commission, Mahmoud Cherif Bassiouni, believes the race would "enhance national reconciliation".
Meanwhile, 22 April draws ever closer.Ecclestone, who describes his sport as "non-political", has repeatedly insisted that Formula One will travel to Bahrain this year as long as the organisers deem it to be safe. He said the decision had nothing to do with money.