Security ramped up in Bahrain as Grand Prix action gets underway


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The Independent Online

Formula One staff arrived at the Bahrain International Circuit today to increased security ahead of planned protests.

Prior to first practice for this weekend's troubled Bahrain Grand Prix, police vehicles littered the Sheikh Salman bin Khalifa Highway, one of the two main roads out of capital Manama to the track.

On a 32-kilometre stretch there were a total of 79, including cars, bikes and one armoured patrol vehicle.

On arrival at the entrance to the track everybody involved in F1 had their bags searched, walked through a metal detector and was subjected to a body scanner, all exceptionally rare for the sport.

At first glance it would appear there are more police on hand outside than fans inside given the sparse number of spectators in the main grandstand for the initial 90-minute session.

The police presence is essential, though, given a planned protest is scheduled to take place at 4pm local time (2pm BST) on the Zallaq Highway, two kilometres north of the circuit close to the University of Bahrain.

A protest group known as the Coalition of the Youth of the Feb 14 Revolution have promised 'three days of rage' across Bahrain, starting today, which is the start of the weekend.

The Coalition are calling on people in the closest villages to the circuit - Dar Kulaib, Shahrakan, Hamala, Karzakan, Malkiya, Sadad - to gather and march on the main highway that leads to the BIC.

In light of what happened to Force India personnel on Wednesday night when a car carrying four team members was caught up in a violent clash between police and protesters, it is understood no further incidents involving anybody from F1 occurred last night.

Force India deputy team principal Bob Fernley, who yesterday allowed two of his staff to return home after they cited safety concerns, was a relieved man.

"Everything is fine for us, we're all in good shape, the guys are happy, no issues," Fernley told Press Association Sport.

"There was absolutely nothing last night. We had a perfect trip back."

Fernley again insisted he had no qualms with the two who opted to return home. He added: "When you've personal issues you are not comfortable with, we have to respect that.

"We're a team. We're not a group of people telling people what to do. If they're uncomfortable we have to recognise that and support them.

"That applies to all the guys, but those that are here are here because that is where they want to be."