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F1 must axe Bahrain season opener – Lauda

Niki Lauda has urged F1 authorities to call off the 2011 season opener.

“This is about democracy in a country,” the triple world champion told Bild newspaper, as anti-government protesters clash with violent police in Bahrain’s capital Manama.

“It would be wrong to suddenly burst into a sports event.  We need to stay out of there,” added Lauda.

A GP2 Asia race has already been cancelled, with some competitors including Spaniard Dani Clos revealing that his hotel was just 200 metres from the centre of the fighting.

“After learning that we weren’t going to race, the only thought was finding a way to get out of the country,” he told AS newspaper.  “And the sooner the better.”

The F1 teams are yet to declare a unified position on the March testing and world championship opener, but FOTA is scheduled to meet in Barcelona on Friday.

“The safety of our employees is paramount,” Mercedes motor racing vice-president Norbert Haug said.

F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone spoke to the media late on Thursday and admitted he is very concerned.

“It’s not good is it?” said the Briton.  “If things stay as they are today, the answer is no.  If it’s not quietened down by Wednesday, I think we will have to cancel probably,” added Ecclestone.

“We’ll make a decision by Tuesday or Wednesday,” he said, “(but) If you are making travel arrangements, I’d say don’t.

“We may try to put it (Bahrain) on again later in the year.”

The Bahrain military said on state television late on Thursday that it had “key parts” of Manama back under control.

But US secretary of state Hilary Clinton, even with America’s entire fifth fleet stationed in Bahrain, admitted “deep concern” about the government’s violent overreaction to the protests.