• Bahrain Grand Prix

Tension grows as F1 circus returns to Bahrain

ESPN Staff
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An anti-Formula One banner displayed during a rally in the village of Al-Malkiya, south of Manama © Getty Images

Formula One is bracing for the return to Bahrain this weekend amid fresh protests about the staging of a grand prix in a country still riven by sectarian and political divisions. While the level of unease about the event taking place is not on a scale of recent years, it is still likely to take place against a background of security concerns.

The protests prompted the cancellation of the 2011 race and vast security measures to allow the 2012 event to proceed, but thousands still demonstrated on Friday against the race. Organisers of the protests said more demonstrations were planned.

The FIA and FOM, which runs the commercial side of the sport, have been largely silent on the political protests in the lead-up to the event.

"I don't see any problems going to Bahrain, like it was last year," said Franz Tost, team principal of Toro Rosso. "I'm looking forward to going there. Formula One is entertainment. We should not be involved in politics. We should go there, do our race, we should be concentrated there and the political side and the political topics should be solved by someone else."

Rights groups say that Bahrain security forces have expanded arrests and crackdowns near the Sakhir circuit. Friday's protest, authorised by the government, included a line of marchers more than a mile long.

Bahrain's majority Shiites have pressed for a greater political voice on the Sunni-ruled island, which is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.