Rubens Barrichello says that Formula 1 drivers are seeking assurances about the safety implications of racing in Bahrain this year, amid a growing backlash against the FIA's decision to reinstate the event on the 2011 calendar.
The FIA announced last Friday that the Bahrain Grand Prix would be rescheduled for Oct. 30 this year because it believed the political turmoil that had forced its postponement earlier this year had eased. That decision has been heavily criticized in the last few days with senior figures, including former FIA president Max Mosley and Mark Webber, warning of problems for F1, and Bahrain activists now planning a "Day of Rage" for the race date.
Barrichello, who is head of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association, has also spoken out – claiming drivers are uneasy about the situation they may find themselves in by racing in the country.
"I would like to make it clear that I love the track and the event itself," Barrichello said in an interview with the Brazilian Totalrace website. "Therefore, I want to be sure that we will be safe there. In the GPDA meetings, all of the drivers showed concern and demanded safety to race in Bahrain.
"Of course we will have more traveling and work. The teams will have much more work to do. But for us, the drivers, what really matters is safety. The rest is not important."
F1 drivers are not the only ones concerned about safety, with teams also believed to privately express reservations about the implications of racing in the Gulf island state amid ongoing trouble. Renault team principal Eric Boullier said that his outfit would be happy to race in Bahrain if the safety of its personnel could be guaranteed.
"Lotus Renault GP acknowledge the decision made by the FIA World Motor Sport Council," he said. "That decision is likely to be discussed internally within FOTA, and a more detailed joint position may be defined after those discussions have taken place.
"I have already spoken at length about our team's position recently: We are happy to go to Bahrain as long as our safety and the security of the people living there is guaranteed."
With Mosley having warned over the weekend that a running of the Bahrain GP will "cost F1 dear", Britain's Minister of Sport, Hugh Robertson, has equally warned of a "disaster" for the sport. "You cannot have a situation where politics overtakes sport," Robertson told Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper. "If that happens, you have a disaster on your hands. You can understand why opposition groups might want the race to go ahead if they are planning protests around it and this is a danger."
The Bahrain GP was postponed earlier this year in the wake of protests sparked by a "Day of Rage" in February, and now activists plan to hold another one on the Oct. 30 date to highlight their continued opposition to the Bahrain government. Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, said that protests would be extensive.
"It is a very sad moment to hear that Grand Prix feels that their benefits and their interests are more important than the human rights of people in this region," he said. "The people are very upset and already they have called the day of that racing as a 'Day of Rage', where you come out everywhere and in every city of Bahrain to show anger toward the Bahrain government; what the Bahrain regime is doing toward its own people."
F1 teams are expected to discuss their response to the Bahrain situation this week, prior to traveling to Montreal for this weekend's Canadian Grand Prix.