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F1 chief dismisses Bahrain concerns

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP)

Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone said he's not worried about Bahrain once again hosting a Formula One race despite ongoing clashes between security forces and anti-government protesters.

''I wasn't concerned this year and I'm not concerned for next year,'' Ecclestone said Friday.

Ecclestone also seemed to put a damper on prospects of a return of the French Grand Prix to the schedule, possibly as soon as next year, as a replacement for the canceled New Jersey race. Asked about it, he only would say ''who knows, everything is possible with me, you know that.''

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The French GP has been off the calendar since 2008, but officials of the Magny Cours and Paul Ricard circuits are making bids for its return.

The Bahrain Grand Prix was held in April without violence at the race, although it was a public relations disaster for F1. Sectarian violence rocked the streets of Manama, causing death and injury during the race weekend. It created a disturbing background for the race, which was won by Sebastian Vettel.

Ecclestone has long been one of the strongest backers of the Bahrain GP since it became the first race in the Gulf eight years ago. He continued to lobby for the race even after it was cancelled in 2011 because of anti-government protests and a subsequent government crackdown. A bid to reschedule the race for later in 2011 was abandoned by local organizers amid increasing pressure from rights groups.

The race was added to the 2013 calendar despite sometimes daily violent protests for greater political rights. Last month, Bahrain banned all protests amid the growing violence. More than 50 people have been killed in Bahrain's unrest since February 2011. Among them were two policemen who died last month from injuries suffered in attacks by firebombs and explosives.

Ecclestone also raised the possibility of a third grand prix in the Gulf, this one in neighboring Qatar. Local media reports there have reported in recent months that officials are trying to get the license to allow it to host F1 teams for preseason testing. If granted, that could be a step to eventually hosting a F1 race most likely at the circuit that now hosts a MotoGP race.

''Let's see. Let's see what comes out of it,'' he said of a Qatar GP.

The F1 boss also heaped praise on Abu Dhabi, which he said has the best facilities of any circuit in the series.

''I love it here. All the teams love it here. Everyone is very happy,'' he said. ''This is without any doubt the best circuit we've got. We try to make it (a benchmark) but it's not easy. It's not inexpensive to make something like this, so we have to be a bit careful.''

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