SHANGHAI, April 12, 2012 (AFP / Peter Stebbings) - Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone insisted on Thursday that the highly controversial Bahrain Grand Prix will go ahead, reports said, as the issue overshadowed the lead-up to the Shanghai race.
Ecclestone and Formula One's world governing body are under increasing pressure to make a final ruling on the race in Bahrain, which is just 10 days away, with at least one driver saying it had become a distraction.
"The race is on the calendar. Unless it gets withdrawn by the national sporting authority in the country, we will be there," said the 81-year-old, who is the sport's commercial rights holder.
"I don't see any difference between here (China) and Bahrain. It's the same. It's another race on the calendar," he was quoted as saying by autosport.com.
Ecclestone will meet with meet the teams in Shanghai on Friday, although he insisted that the April 22 race in Bahrain would not be on the agenda.
"I'm meeting the teams on unrelated matters," Ecclestone told reporters.
"There's nothing about Bahrain, or Barcelona or Monaco or anywhere."
The event in Bahrain, which has been roiled by over a year of anti-government demonstrations, was the hottest topic of conversation in Shanghai, which hosts the third grand prix of the season on Sunday.
The FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile), the world governing body, and many drivers attempted to get the focus back on the Chinese Grand Prix, but the fate of the Gulf race would not go away.
"So, Bahrain?" Red Bull's Australian driver Mark Webber said, unprompted, to open his press briefing.
"There's no beating around the bush, it is sensitive out there," he said, attempting to pick his words carefully.
"We can only go on what the FIA are reading into the situation and obviously we are putting in an enormous amount of trust -- I don't mean 'we' the drivers, I'm talking about you guys, photographers, caterers, everybody
"Clearly there are some massive decisions to be made and it looks like they are being made, and let's hope it goes well."
The FIA, which kept tight-lipped on Thursday, last year postponed the Bahrain race before removing it from last season's schedule altogether over the demonstrations.
The Gulf state says the situation is calm and the race would be a chance for Bahrain to unite, but ongoing protests and violence, including a bomb attack on Monday that wounded seven policemen, has put the event in jeopardy again.
The teams are reportedly keen not to take part, but say they cannot make the decision to cancel the race and are looking for the FIA to tell them what to do.
Webber, 35, said there were moral and safety considerations -- demonstrators have claimed they will target the race -- to take into account, but a decision needed to be made quickly.
"It is now a difficult decision because we're a week away," he said.
"Things can be called off in a flash... You start to get more nervous as the day comes and now it's topical, there's a lot more pressure to be made in the decision-making process.
"It's on the FIA, as the teams and Bernie (Ecclestone) have stated."
Webber added: "It has been distracting. Trying to give a fair and correct position on Bahrain with you guys is something that I try to be fair with and you want to get that right.
"It's an unusual position for a grand prix driver to be put in."
Briton Lewis Hamilton, who drives for McLaren, said he was eager to focus on getting his first win of the season in Shanghai.
"I don't think it's my place or anyone else's place to really comment," he replied when asked about his personal feelings about the prospect of going to Bahrain.
"We all just have to look at the FIA and wait for their decision."