Ecclestone hopes Bahrain protest ‘blows away’

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LONDON (AP) - Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone is hoping that deadly anti-government unrest in Bahrain “all blows away” so the season-opening Grand Prix can be run as scheduled.

Ecclestone said Friday a decision on the March 13 race will be made next week. The Bahrain GP risks becoming the first event canceled in F1 history.

“Our people there say, ‘It’s quiet, no problems,’” Ecclestone told the BBC. “I’m more hopeful today. I hope we don’t have to do anything, that things carry on as normal. Let’s hope this all blows away.”

In Bahrain, soldiers fired tear gas and shot heavy weapons into the air as thousands of marchers defied a government ban and streamed toward the landmark square that had been the symbolic center of the uprising against the Gulf nation’s leaders.

Hospital officials said at least 20 people were injured, some seriously. A day earlier, riot police swept through Pearl Square, killing at least five people.

“Let’s wait and see because we don’t know what the protests are really about. We’ve never _ ever, ever _ been involved in religion and politics and we don’t make decisions based on those things,” Ecclestone said. “Because people (were) killed, nobody’s happy with that I’m sure. In these parts there have always been skirmishes, so let’s hope it’s no more than that.”

Bahrain became the first Middle Eastern country to host an F1 race in 2004. Abu Dhabi has since joined the championship calendar.

So far, the governing body FIA has expressed confidence that the protests would not prevent the F1 race from being held.

Barcelona’s Catalunya Circuit has offered to step in as a substitute venue for the final test session leading to the Bahrain GP.

Circuit director Salvador Servia said Friday the track would be available to hold the March 3-6 testing after the Formula One Teams Association asked about a potential switch.

A lower-tier GP2 Asia Series race at the Bahrain circuit was canceled Thursday amid the protests.

FOTA general secretary Simone Perillo told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that teams were meeting at the Barcelona circuit on Friday.

“Consultations are taking place on the whole logistic possibilities and what is happening in Bahrain,” Perillo said. “If things don’t calm down then we’ll have to consider the possibilities.”

Perillo said the teams were also discussing options concerning the first race of the season but said it was too early to talk about canceling, switching or postponing the Bahrain Grand Prix.

The Catalunya Circuit hosts the Spanish GP on May 22.

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