• Commercial rights holder will speak to teams at China race
• FIA says reports of violence are ‘distorted and inaccurate’
The Bahrain Grand Prix will go ahead on 22 April despite widespread fears over public safety. Formula One’s disgruntled teams will be told the news in what is expected to be a heated meeting in Shanghai on Saturday, the Guardian can reveal.
Jean Todt, the president of the sport’s governing body, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), will address the dozen team principals and use Bahrain government and police information, as well as statements from various embassies, to argue that the situation has improved, despite recent reports of ongoing pro-democracy protests and violence as the race weekend approaches.
In what will amount to a charm offensive, the commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone will speak to the team officials on the eve of the Chinese Grand Prix and attempt to reassure them, as well as reminding them of their contractual commitments.
A centrepiece of Todt’s evidence is a letter he received on Wednesdayfrom John Yates, the senior police adviser to Bahrain’s ministry of interior, even though Yates warns that the current violence is placing “innocent members of the public in significant danger”.
He goes on to describe recent reports of the situation in Bahrain as “distorted” and “inaccurate” before adding: “From what I have seen and witnessed, the willingness to reform is real and is being led from the highest level of government. Numerous and significant, tangible changes have already been made, particularly in relation to human rights.”
Describing the current protests, Yates added: “These are not lawful protests, which are permitted, but violent conduct by a very small minority – often groups of 15-20 young men. These are criminal acts being perpetrated against an unarmed police force who, in the face of such attacks, are acting with remarkable restraint. These people are intent on causing harm to the police and the communities in which they live.”
However, in another passage of the letter, which may be seized upon by those who say the race should not take place, Yates said: “This is not to dismiss the fact that some troubles do still exist. The almost nightly skirmishes that take place in certain villages are a potential block on progress and are putting those involved in their policing and innocent members of the public in significant danger.” One protest this week was followed by a bomb attack that wounded seven policemen.
Earlier this week Ecclestone, tongue firmly in cheek, told the teams that he could not force them to go to Bahrain, and that the decision was up to them. But on Tuesday the teams replied through the Formula One Teams Association that the onus was on the FIA to make the Bahrain call.
That is what, finally, the FIA is now doing, as teams struggle to juggle with next week’s travel arrangements as well as preparing for this Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix in almost surreal circumstances.
Todt will also reassure the teams that the jailed Bahraini-Danish activist, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who has been on hunger strike for two months and whose condition has been reported as increasingly frail, is being “fed lightly”.
The FIA confirmedon Wednesday that “not one team” has made an official approach asking for the race to be called off, or at least postponed.
However, it is believed that most team principals do not want to go to Bahrain next week.
In an exclusive interview with the Guardian this week, a team chief who asked not to be named but claimed his views were representative of most of the teams, said: “I feel very uncomfortable about going to Bahrain.
“If I’m frank, the only way they can pull this race off without incident is to have a complete military lock-down there. And I think that would be unacceptable, both for F1 and for Bahrain. We’re all hoping the FIA calls it off.”
The FIA, however, is planning to do exactly the opposite.
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