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Bahrain battle on a knife edge

F1: Concerns are starting to grow this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix could face a last-minute call-off.

Force India deputy team principal Bob Fernley has insisted there is a real will for the race to go ahead and prove a success.

However, in the wake of escalating protests and violence across the Gulf kingdom that affected four Force India employees on Wednesday night, the unease is palpable.

The team only played a limited role in second practice today after team members left the track to be back in their hotel before it got dark, when a number of violent protests were again due to take place across the Gulf island.

“We had to limit it,” said Fernley.

“We are looking at it from the point of view of the well being of everybody, and the comfort of everybody is in place, and that's the key objective for us.

“But the team is absolutely fully committed to racing here. We will be there for qualifying and the race.”

Wednesday's incident saw the four team members involved in a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It is understood a pitched battle ensued between demonstrators and police, with eight petrol bombs landing in the vicinity of the traffic hold-up in which the Force India car was caught, forcing the riot police to respond with tear gas.

None of the four were injured, but the incident has sent a shockwave through the team and Formula One in general.

Two team members, one of whom was in the car at the time, flew home yesterday citing their fears regarding safety.

On the track, Lewis Hamilton led the way in first practice for the third consecutive race.

After topping the timesheet in Malaysia and China at the end of the opening 90-minute session, Hamilton again proved to be the man to beat this morning.

Hamilton was quickly on the pace, posting a lap of one minute 33.572secs on a track that has reverted back to its 2004-2009 configuration in the wake of a failed experiment in 2010 when it was lengthened.

In his McLaren, the 27-year-old finished 0.305secs ahead of Red Bull's reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel, with Paul di Resta third for Force India.

The Scot, however, did apparently run on the softer option tyre, compared to the harder mediums used by those around him, with team-mate Nico Hulkenberg doing similar and winding up sixth.

The duo finished 0.578secs and 0.77secs behind Hamilton, with Sunday's debut winner Nico Rosberg in his Mercedes fourth and Jenson Button in his McLaren fifth.

Mercedes' Michael Schumacher was seventh and Red Bull's Mark Webber eighth, both within a second of Hamilton, whilst the Lotus' of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean completed the top 10.

The Ferrari duo of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, meanwhile, were a lowly 13th and 15th, around two seconds of the pace.