Shanghai: Protests in Bahrain ahead of next week's Formula One Grand Prix are giving Force India no sleepless nights despite the scare team members had last year when they were caught in a petrol bomb incident.
"Lightning doesn't strike twice in the same place ... I am not expecting any issues at all," the team's deputy principal Bob Fernley said at the Chinese Grand Prix with a broad smile. "But there's bound to be something," added the Briton. You'd be a bit foolish to think there's not going to be some sort of protest and things like that, but that's good. If Formula One activates some protests and they want to get things off their chests, that's good as well."
Thousands of Bahrainis staged a peaceful protest march on Friday in the first of a series of demonstrations being organised by the Shi'ite led opposition before the fourth round of the Formula One season. The race at the Sakhir desert circuit was cancelled in 2011 when anti-government protests were crushed and at least 35 people died.
Last year's event went ahead against a backdrop of daily clashes between teargas-firing police and petrol bomb throwing youths. Force India were caught up in those 'days of rage' protests when petrol bombs were thrown near a car taking staff back to their hotel from the track.
Two staff decided to return home immediately and the team introduced a curfew to ensure all employees were back at their accommodation before nightfall for the remainder of the weekend. Fernley said there were no plans to repeat those measures. The British-based team might even be taking slightly more staff with them this time.
"Once we'd got over that initial hiccup, we were fine. It was just that initial part that caused the problems," he said of last year's scare. "Once it was dealt with and we settled everything down again, the weekend went to plan for us. We quite liked that (the curfew). It was a reaction to emotional needs which we had to deal with as a team and it was important we made sure everyone felt comfortable and that we had their interests at heart as a team."
Last year's Chinese Grand Prix was dominated by talk of Bahrain, and speculation the race might be cancelled, to the extent that Nico Rosberg's first win for Mercedes was almost overshadowed. The situation is very different a year on, with a 'team orders' controversy and the breakdown in relations between feuding Red Bull drivers the main topic of conversation in the Shanghai paddock.
"I've got enough problems with my drivers, let alone Bahrain," Red Bull team principal Christian Horner told a news conference after free practice on Friday. "We've got our own issues."
Toro Rosso principal Franz Tost, whose Red Bull-owned team is backed by three prominent Abu Dhabi sponsors, was more outspoken with a strong defence of the race.
"I don't see any problems going to Bahrain, like it was last year," he said. "I'm looking forward to going there. I think it's very important to race over there. Formula One is entertainment. We should not be involved in politics. We should go there, we should do our race, we should be concentrated there and the political side and political topics should be solved by someone else."