Formula One drivers keep focus on track
MANAMA (Reuters) - The Bahrain Grand Prix paddock, with palms and cushioned seats, appeared an oasis of calm on Thursday as Formula One teams went through their routines in a bubble far from violent clashes elsewhere on the island.
Drivers gave their usual media briefings and appeared in news conferences while mechanics worked on cars in the garages and prepared for Friday's free practice, the first at the Sakhir track since 2010.
The questions were mostly limited to Sunday's race, the drivers' prospects and technical concerns despite two members of the Force India team deciding to go home after a petrol bomb landed on the highway as colleagues were driving back to their hotel on Wednesday evening.
More protests took place in Manama on Thursday evening with clashes between anti-government protestors seeking to oust Bahrain's monarchy and police, who fired teargas and stun grenades.
Protestors have threatened 'days of rage' to coincide with the race, including one demonstration near the circuit on Friday.
"I heard about the Force India issue. Yeah. I mean...I think generally being in the paddock it seems to be no problem," Red Bull's double world champion Sebastian Vettel said.
"Outside of the paddock maybe there is a risk but I think there is a risk everywhere we go.
"I think it's not a big problem and I think I'm happy once we start testing tomorrow because then we worry about the stuff that really matters - tyre temperatures, cars," added the 24-year-old German.
Compatriot Michael Schumacher, the most successful driver in the sport with seven titles and 91 race wins, made clear he was not prepared for a debate.
"I don't want to mix the sport with political things. I'm here for the sport," said the 43-year-old, winner of the first Bahrain Grand Prix with Ferrari in 2004, in a Mercedes team briefing.
Jenson Button, who won in Bahrain in 2009, was also reluctant to discuss the situation but made clear that drivers did pay attention to the world outside the paddock even if they were not talking about it.
"I arrived today so I didn't hear that much," said the McLaren driver, taking a deep breath. "I'm not going to get into the details of it. You are here interviewing me as a driver and that's exactly what I am going to talk about, motor racing.
"The outside issues, I'm not going to talk about."
Like others, Button was looking forward to getting out on track and shutting out anything other than his immediate task of setting up the car for qualifying and the race.
"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," said the Briton.
"But when you are outside the car, of course you are asked questions. Of course you understand what is going on around you, some of us are intelligent human beings."
The two Force India drivers were more prepared to discuss events after team bosses had met local organisers and police to talk about security measures.
"It is obviously not right that sort of stuff happens," said Germany's Nico Hulkenberg.
"We are here to race. The F1 business is about entertainment, and these sort of things should not really be happening to us. Whether it is right or not, I don't really know. I am not a politician, I am a Formula One driver.
"But it should not really be happening should it? It is not good we have to worry about it."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)
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