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Business as usual for F1 despite Bahrain protests

updated 1:01 PM EDT, Fri April 19, 2013
A Bahraini protestor holds up a poster against the country's upcoming Formula One Grand Prix during a demonstration in the village of Jid Ali, north-east of Isa Town. Protesters in Bahrain plan to step up demands for reform ahead of Sunday's race. A Bahraini protestor holds up a poster against the country's upcoming Formula One Grand Prix during a demonstration in the village of Jid Ali, north-east of Isa Town. Protesters in Bahrain plan to step up demands for reform ahead of Sunday's race.
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People's protest
Smoke signals
Raikkonen on track
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • F1 commercial right's holders FIA and FOM confirms Sunday's race will go ahead
  • Tensions in Bahrain have remained high since 2011 uprising
  • Government believes F1 brings "significant benefits" to country
  • Kimi Raikkonen fastest in Friday's afternoon practice session

(CNN) -- In Bahrain smoke billows on the street from burning tires and protesters use fire extinguishers to shoot iron arrows towards riot police.

But at the Bahrain International Circuit it is business as usual as the roar of Formula One continues to fill the Sakhir track in the kingdom.

Even so, Friday's practice session for Sunday's Grand Prix was overshadowed by political tensions as the sport's regulator and teams insisted the race should go ahead.

Read: F1's return to Bahrain meets mixed response

Bahrain's Shiite opposition was said to be planning protests on Friday, though it was unclear if the police would allow them to go ahead.

Formula One not so welcomed in Bahrain
2012: A revolution deferred in Bahrain
There have been protests against Formula One's arrival in Bahrain as the race returned in 2013. Some protesters, pictured here on April 16, wanted F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone to cancel the race. There have been protests against Formula One's arrival in Bahrain as the race returned in 2013. Some protesters, pictured here on April 16, wanted F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone to cancel the race.
F1 makes uncertain Bahrain return
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F1 makes uncertain Bahrain return F1 makes uncertain Bahrain return

On Thursday, thousands demonstrated in several areas across Bahrain in yet another day of protests.

But with no evidence of unrest in and around the track, the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) -- the sport's regulator -- and Formula One Management (FOM) -- the commercial rights holders for the sport -- insisted the race will take place.

"The Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) and Formula One Management (FOM) wish to jointly confirm their belief that the Bahrain GP should go ahead this weekend," those two bodies said in a statement.

"The FIA and FOM also strongly believe that sport can often be a force for good and that the staging of the Grand Prix in Bahrain will come some way in helping soothe some of the issues which have been raised in the media.

"Jean Todt and Bernie Ecclestone are united in expressing their support for the Bahrain GP and the national organizer, and wish that all concerned respect the desire of the teams, drivers and all those involved in the staging of the event to do the best job possible over the weekend," added the statement, referring respectively to the FIA president and the F1 supremo.

"The local promoter and the national authorities have assured both the FIA and FOM that security, their responsibility, will be guaranteed for all participants to the Bahrain GP."

Tensions in the kingdom remain high following the 2011 uprising, where the majority Shiite population protested against the ruling Sunni minority.

Read: Protest threaten to overshadow GP

Those protests were brought to a swift and brutal conclusion by Bahrain's security forces along with the assistance of troops brought in from Saudi Arabia.

While protesters have used the grand prix as an opportunity to bring global attention to their struggle, the Bahrain government insists the race will bring long term benefits to its people.

"F1 brings significant benefits to everyone in Bahrain, especially economically," the government said in a statement.

"Bahrain upholds the right to peaceful protest. It is a country made up of many communities with different views on its development.

"This is why it has launched a dialogue between all political groups to address political issues in a manner that will ensure the country develops in a sustainable way.

"It should be noted that in some cases protests encouraged by extreme opposition groups result in deliberate and targeted violence.

"Only in these case do security forces respond and they do so while exercising appropriate restraint. Some unfortunately believe that continued unrest on the streets affords them a political advantage, when it results in greater divisions between communities in Bahrain. Violence can never be tolerated."

Read: Kovalainen returns

Meanwhile, on the track, Kimi Raikkonen was the fastest man in the afternoon's second free practice session.

The Lotus driver clocked a fastest time of one minute 34.154 seconds to pip Red Bull's Mark Webber by just 0.03 seconds.

"I would have liked to have got some more running in P2, but I still think we learned what we expected today," Australian Webber told the official Formula One website.

"Saturdays are perhaps becoming less important overall than they used to be, but they're still important in terms of traffic.

"You don't want to be in too much traffic on Sunday, as the tires don't like being disturbed and wear more which will shorten your first stint -- so you still need to be in a good position.

"We still have areas to improve on the car. Lotus and Ferrari look strong and Mercedes is there too."

Red Bull rival and three-time world champion Sebastian Vettel was third fastest in the afternoon, but he remains positive of his chances of success this weekend.

"It's pretty close," said Vettel.

"If you look at the opposition then Ferrari and Lotus were strong today and I think it will be close in qualifying.

"It's important to work with the tires around the track. I wasn't so happy with my short runs today - but that's why we have the Friday practice sessions I guess; I was happier with the longer runs.

"The tires still seem to be the dominating factor. The car seems quick, so we have to make sure we use that and then we should be on the right page."

Lewis Hamilton, who has recorded two podium finishes so far this season, found life more difficult after finishing the day 10th fastest.

"We're working as hard as we can and we just need to find some more time from somewhere," he told reporters.

"I don't really know where we are losing it. They have changed the car this weekend, changed the settings for what they think the track needs but I'm not convinced it is the right way to go.

"I don't know if they are right or wrong but we were struggling for pace today... But I am sure we will find it."

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