The 2011 F1 season opener in Bahrain is less than a month away, so recent protests in the kingdom have raised a red flag for F1 organizers and teams. A test session in Bahrain is scheduled for March 3, which means that a significant number of team personnel will be in-country for two weeks or longer. If civil unrest does escalate, teams want assurances that their personnel and assets will be safe. Organizers of the 2011 Gulf Air Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix have issued a statement, but failed to go into any level of detail. Sheikh Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa, CEO of the Bahrain International Circuit, was quoted by Autoweek as saying, “The safety of all Bahraini nationals, expats and overseas visitors is a priority at all times in the kingdom, and at the Bahrain International Circuit our focus at the present time is on delivering another successful event… We are monitoring the situation very closely indeed in association with the relevant authorities and will respond appropriately to any further developments.”
If if were about to jump on an airplane for two weeks in Bahrain, I’m not sure that statement would fill me with confidence. On the one hand, Bahrain seems about as buttoned up as any country in the middle east, but then again so did Egypt to us outsiders. It’s an island, which is both good (easy to keep the riff-raff out) and bad (no place to run when the fertilizer hits the fan). Rumor has it that even the unflappable Bernie Ecclestone is concerned, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next two weeks.