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MANAMA, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 20: A traffic light is turned red at the empty Formula One race track at Bahrain International Circuit on February 20, 2011 in Manama, Bahrain. The season-opening race is in doubt due to the continued unrest in the country. Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone has said he will leave the decision on whether to hold the Bahrain Grand Prix to the country's Crown Prince Salman ibn Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa. The final decision is expected by February 22. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MANAMA, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 20: A traffic light is turned red at the empty Formula One race track at Bahrain International Circuit on February 20, 2011 in Manama, Bahrain. The season-opening race is in doubt due to the continued unrest in the country. Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone has said he will leave the decision on whether to hold the Bahrain Grand Prix to the country's Crown Prince Salman ibn Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa. The final decision is expected by February 22. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

'Nobody will harm the F1 teams'

Security forces fired stun grenades at protesters yesterday during a cultural exhibition for the Bahrain Grand Prix.

MANAMA // Organisers of the Bahrain Grand Prix have for several weeks now proclaimed they are ready to welcome Formula One's travelling circus and they are proving true to their word as the F1 fraternity coasts through the kingdom's international airport.

Yet only a few miles away, media accustomed to writing about tyre compounds have instead found themselves focusing on the unrest.

Those travelling to the Gulf nation ahead of the fourth round of the world championship this weekend have, despite fears of a crackdown on the media, negotiated the airport with relative ease.

Special pre-arranged grand prix visas have ensured quick customs processing, while the busy, poster-laden road between the arrivals lounge and the capital, Manama, has proved busy but not a problem.

The 24 drivers, the majority of whom stopped in the UAE on route, have been trickling in since Monday, while the cars arrived on Tuesday.

Engineers are busy setting up the garages ahead of Friday's opening practice session, which will be the first time the F1 machines have taken to the track at Sakhir International Circuit in more than two years.

Last season's race was cancelled due to violence in the country and, as has been widely reported, the problems facing the controversial race lie not in the capital, but further afield.

In rural villages protests have gone on much like they have for the past 14 months. The primary difference is that now the protesters have a tangible international audience.

British motorsports journalists who arrived immediately after Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix have reported from marches and more are planned for Saturday and Sunday.

Last night, security forces fired stun grenades at protesters during a cultural exhibition for the grand prix, while earlier in the day dozens of people confronted the kingdom's crown prince in a neighbourhood known to be an opposition stronghold.

Nabeel Rajab, the leader of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, last night moved to assure Formula One staff will not be targeted this weekend.

"Nobody will harm anybody, no one in a Formula One team, nobody," he said.

"Yes, they are angry at the sport, but it's not personal, it's about politics."

Jenson Button, the British F1 driver, said yesterday that he was placing his complete trust in the FIA with regard to the grand prix event.

Button, when asked whether he had any safety concerns this weekend, issued a firm: "No".

He added: "I trust in the FIA that they know all the information - I don't personally - so we have to trust in their decision.

"I don't think they will ever want to put us at risk. They do a lot on safety for drivers, in terms of the circuits and the cars and what have you, and that's a priority for them.

"So I believe in the FIA's decision.

"If everything is straightforward and nothing happens, it's not even going to be in the back of my mind at all."

sports@thenational.ae

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