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F1 teams 'will not pull out of Bahrain GP'

updated 6:29 PM EDT, Wed April 11, 2012
Protests against the Bahrain GP have intensified in recent weeks.
Protests against the Bahrain GP have intensified in recent weeks.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Leading F1 teams tell CNN they won't pull out of Bahrain GP
  • Red Bull and Toro Rosso say decision rests with FIA
  • Bahrain GP due to take place April 22
  • Decision should be made after this weekend's Shanghai GP

(CNN) -- Organizers for the controversial Bahrain Grand Prix have been given a boost after several Formula One teams, including world champions Red Bull, told CNN they will not unilaterally pull out of the race.

Following reports this week that some teams were planning on canceling their appearance at the grand prix, which is due to take place April 22 at the Bahrain International Circuit on the Persian Gulf island, CNN contacted all 12 constructors.

Nine declined to comment but Red Bull, whose driver Sebastian Vettel won the drivers' championship and who also clinched the 2011 constructors' title, told CNN that the decision on whether the Bahrain Grand Prix goes ahead is a matter for motorsport's governing body the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile [FIA] and not individual teams.

Teams won't pull out

"It's up to the FIA," a Red Bull spokesperson said.

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"We take part in the F1 championship and if that calendar includes a race in Bahrain then we will be racing in Bahrain. It's not up to the teams to pick and choose which races we take part in.

"The FIA are the ones monitoring the situation. They are the ones who make a decision based on what is happening on the ground and we take their guidance."

Bernie Ecclestone, the driving force behind Formula One, had earlier stated that it is up to the individual teams to decide whether they would race in Bahrain.

"We've no way we can force people to go there," he told the UK Press Association.

"We can't say 'you've got to go' -- although they would be in breach of their agreement with us if they didn't go -- but it doesn't help. Commercially they have to go, but whether they decide to or not is up to them. I've had no one say anything other than 'we're going to be racing in Bahrain'."

By not racing in Bahrain, any Formula One team would be breaking the Concorde Agreement -- a commercial contract between FIA, Ecclestone's Formula One Administration and the teams -- and would be liable to potentially ruinous multi-million-dollar censure.

"Teams are unable to cancel grands prix," replied the Formula One Team Association (FOTA).

"We race in an international series called the FIA Formula One world championship, and it is therefore for the FIA to offer the teams guidance on these issues."

A year of protests

Controversy has raged over the Bahrain Grand Prix ever since an uprising against the ruling Al Khalifa royal family rocked the kingdom just over a year ago.

I say think of the human rights, think of things other than just your profit
Nabeel Rajab

Pro-democracy protests were crushed, with dozens killed in the ensuing violence. Last year's race was canceled as a result but protests have continued in the run up to this year's race. Local human rights groups claim that abuses have continued despite government assurances to the contrary.

"If Formula One go ahead with the race it will give the impression that everything is back to normal when everything is not back to normal. People are dying on a daily basis," Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, told CNN.

"I say think of the human rights, think of things other than just your profit and your interest. Human rights have to come first," he added.

"We will welcome you back when everything is back to normal, when the killing and arrests have stopped in the streets."

However, Zayed al Zayani, chairman of the Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) where the F1 race will be staged, insisted that safety would not be a problem and blamed the crisis on press "scaremongering."

"What has been happening is that armchair observers -- who have not been sufficiently interested or committed to investigate the situation for themselves -- have been driving this debate, at the expense of those neutral parties who have taken the trouble to investigate the situation at first hand," Zayani said in a statement released to CNN.

"This, combined with the scaremongering tactics of certain small extremist groups on social networking sites, has created huge misconceptions about the current situation."

Negative publicity

Such has been the negative publicity surrounding the race, BIC released a statement on Monday quoting British parliamentary MP Ben Wallace, the British Ambassador to Bahrain Iain Lindsay and the Lotus F1 team as saying that Bahrain was safe and the race should go ahead.

But that move backfired when the Lotus F1 team criticized BIC for using their quotes without permission.

"These quotes were part of a full internal and confidential working document, that was also sent on a confidential basis to all F1 team managers last week," Lotus F1 said in their statement.

"Lotus F1 Team is one of 12 contestants of the Formula One world championship and we would never try to substitute ourselves for the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), which is the only party entitled to determine if a grand prix should go ahead or not."

The situation has been further exacerbated by the condition of human rights activist Abdulhadi al Khawaja, who has been on hunger strike for close to two months after being jailed for life charged with plotting to overthrow the state. International rights organizations, including Amnesty International, have called for his release.

According to the British newspaper The Independent, Ecclestone reportedly phoned a leading writer and activist in Bahrain to check on Al Khawaja's condition and even offered to host a press conference with opposition figures.

"(Mr Ecclestone) said he was very concerned about what is going on," Dr. Ala'a Shehabi told The Independent.

"He said the crown prince (Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa) told him that Al Khawaja was doing fine, but I said that I am hearing very different reports."

Decision Sunday?

This weekend will see the Shanghai Grand Prix take center stage.

"As it stands we're due to fly there (Bahrain) straight from Shanghai so a decision on whether the race takes place could be taken as late as Sunday morning," a spokesman for the Toro Rosso team told CNN.

"Clearly it's a situation that we would like to see resolved as soon as possible. I certainly don't think it will be a case of some teams going and some not going. It will be everybody or nobody.

"The team bosses will have a meeting in China ... Bernie Ecclestone will of course be there and I'm sure they will thrash something out."

Although several former drivers, like the British 1996 world champion Damon Hill, have voiced concerns over the Bahrain Grand Prix, the current crop has been largely silent on whether the race should be won.

"If we go, it's a good decision to make," two-time world champion Vettel told CNN Wednesday.

"If we don't go, we don't go."

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