Drivers try to focus on racing matters
The drivers lining up on Sunday to contest the Bahrain Grand Prix have been focusing their thoughts away from political tensions in the Gulf Kingdom, and onto the conditions heating up the Sakhir race course.
Government opponents have promised 'days of rage' during the three-day event culminating Sunday, to highlight repressive regime tactics and protest last week's decision by the sport's controlling body, the FIA, to hold the Bahrain GP, after cancelling last year amid political unrest.
Media reports have focused on arrests and widespread protests, including the fate of a hunger-striking activist, in the buildup to Sunday's Formula One race.
Meanwhile, a senior British police officer who advises the Bahraini government, said security could not be guaranteed - amid media reports that a Force India hire car was caught up in a petrol bomb incident late Wednesday, prompting one team member to leave Bahrain.
"Of course we can't guarantee security. I'd be a fool to sit here and say that," John Yates, former assistant commissioner at London's Metropolitan Police, told the Guardian newspaper.
"Is it possible there might be an incursion on the track? Of course there is. It's an open event. Can you stop some idiot running onto the track? There have been other incidents of track incursions," he added.
But race drivers - such as McLaren's Jenson Button - showed themselves untroubled by security concerns.
"I trust in the FIA that they know all the information, so we have to trust in their decision," Button said. "I don't think they will ever want to put us at risk."
The action on the track promises to be exciting, in a season that has so far produced three different winners in as many races. After cool weather in Shanghai last weekend, the teams have been preparing for temperatures exceeding 30 degrees in Sakhir.
"It's a massive thing for us, for me especially," said Button, who won on the Bahrain circuit with Brawn in 2009.
"I don't know why I can't work tyres in cold conditions. It must be the way I drive. I've tried driving differently but it doesn't work. Heat really helps me."
Meanwhile Nico Rosberg, who delivered the first Mercedes victory since 1955 in Shanghai on Sunday, said the heat may make it harder to optimize the performance of their Pirelli tyres.
"The track layout definitely fits our car but it's really a big challenge for us to manage our tyre work well again and find the right set-up, as the temperatures will be much higher than in China," Rosberg said.
His win had been preceded by victories from Ferrari's Fernando Alonso in Malaysia, and Button's opening win in Australia.
Leading the points table ahead of the Bahrain GP is McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, with 45 points, however he has yet to win a race this season. His teammate Button follows with 43 points, placing Alonso third, with 37.
World champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull will also be eager for his first win of the season, having failed so far to enter the top three in points or rankings.
Vettel has to use the modified exhaust favoured by teammate Mark Webber, rather than his preferred, older model. But he said the Bahrain course, built in the middle of the desert, threw up a different challenge: sand.
"It moves with the wind, so it can suddenly appear in new places on the track on each lap - so you're never quite sure where it will be slippery," Vettel said.
"For the teams, it's always a challenge to anticipate the grip levels for the race."
The 57-lap circuit has a length of 5.412 kilometres, producing a race distance of 308.238 kilometres. Mercedes' Michael Schumacher holds the lap record, 1:30.252, which he set when he won the first race at Sakhir in 2004.