1. ITV Report

Bahrain practice session amid call to cancel race

Lewis Hamilton at today's practice session in Bahrain. Photo: AP

Formula One cars have taken to the track in Bahrain today in the first practice session, as calls continue for the race to be cancelled.

The Bahrain International Circuit is only 25 miles away from the capital Manama, the scene of violent clashes on Thursday. Police used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse around 700 people close to the British embassy.

Activists are promising "days of rage".

Amateur footage has emerged from the Abu Saiba region of Bahrain, reportedly showing clashes between protesters and police on Thursday. ITV News is unable to verify the content and location of the images.

"Formula One in Bahrain has been taken as PR for the ruling elite, the repressive dictators who are ruling the country," activist Nabeel Rajab told a news conference.

Media freedom groups have also accused Bahrain of using this weekend's Formula One motor race as a propaganda exercise to improve its international image, saying it wants to stop journalists reporting on anti-government protests.

Journalists were still waiting for entry visas as Formula One cars took to the track for Friday's first practice session amid tight security.

Lotus F1 Formula One driver Kimi Raikkonen of Finland drives during the first practice session of the Bahrain F1 Grand Prix . Credit: Reuters

"Bahrain wants the international attention brought by hosting a Grand Prix but doesn't want foreign journalists to wander from the race track where they might see political protests," said Robert Mahoney, deputy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York.

"Bahrain tells the outside world it has nothing to hide. If that's the case then it must allow journalists entry visas and let them report freely," he added.

Lewis Hamilton in the paddock ahead the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix

The shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper has made her feelings clear. She says the event should be cancelled:

It shouldn't go ahead, I don't think British drivers should go, I think the Formula One should not go ahead in Bahrain. You have got demonstrations by democratic protesters who have been violently suppressed and although it should be a matter for the sport to decide rather than for the Government, I do think government ministers can express an opinion. That opinion should be it should not go ahead, it would sent the wrong signal, it should not happen.

– Yvette Cooper, Shadow Home Secretary - SPEAKING ON QUESTION TIME, BBC1

Downing Street said the Government remained "concerned" about the violence in Bahrain, but refused to be drawn on whether the race should go ahead.

"It is not for us to dictate what sporting events happen in other countries," a No 10 spokeswoman said.

Daybreak's Richard Gaisford reports British Formula One drivers are being urged to boycott the Grand Prix in protest at the government crackdown on the growing democracy movement.

Many drivers have been reluctant to speak about the unrest, insisting they were only there for the sport.

Generally in the paddock it seems to be no problem. Outside of the paddock maybe there is a risk, but I think there is a risk everywhere we go. I'm happy once we start testing on Friday because then we worry about the stuff that really matters - tyre temperatures, cars. I haven't seen anyone throwing bombs. I don't think it's that bad. I think it's a lot of hype. It's good that we start our job here, which is the sport, and nothing else.

– Sebastian Vettel

Just want to say one thing which is I don't want to mix the sport with politics. I'm here for the sport.

– Michael Schumacher

When you are in the car you don't think of anything else but driving around the circuit trying to feel the car and do the best job you can.

– Jensen Button

Bahrain called off the competition last year amid unrest in a blow to the country's Sunni rulers.

Two members of one of the F1 teams, Force India, decided to leave Bahrain after a team vehicle was caught in a traffic jam on Wednesday caused by a hurled firebomb.

Police use a stun grenade during an anti-government rally in Manama Credit: Reuters

Nearly 50 people have been killed since February 2011 in violence between security forces and protesters from Bahrain's Shiite majority.

They are trying to break the near monopoly on power by the nation's Sunni monarchy.

  • Shiites account for about 70% of Bahrain's population
  • They claim they face widespread discrimination
  • Sunni leaders have offered some reforms
  • Opposition says they fall short of their demands
Ferrari Formula One driver Felipe Massa of Brazil walks in the pits Credit: Reuters

Large sums of money are stake this weekend.

Last year, Bahrain paid a "hosting fee" of $40 million despite cancelling the race.

The Grand Prix drew 100,000 visitors to the nation of just 1.3 million and generated half a billion dollars in spending when it was last held two years ago.

More on this story