|© AP Photo/Luca Bruno
Formula 1 is bracing for its return to Bahrain next week amid fresh protests about the staging of a Grand Prix in a country still riven by sectarian and political divisions.
The protests may not be as intense as they were the past two years -- prompting the cancellation of the 2011 race and vast security measures to allow the 2012 Grand Prix to proceed -- but thousands still demonstrated on Friday against the race, to be held April 21.
Organisers of the protests said more demonstrations were planned.
The FIA, the governing body of F1, and FOM, which runs the commercial side of the sport, have been largely silent on the political protests in the lead-up to this year's event.
Franz Tost, team principal of Toro Rosso, said on Friday it is "very important" the Grand Prix should go ahead.
"I don't see any problems going to Bahrain, like it was last year," Tost said. "I'm looking forward to going there.
"Formula 1 is entertainment. We should not be involved in politics. We should go there, do our race, we should be concentrated there and the political side and the political topics should be solved by someone else."
Rights groups say that Bahrain security forces have expanded arrests and crackdowns near the Sakhir circuit.
Friday's protest, authorised by the government, included a line of marchers more than two kilometers (1.2 miles) long.
Bahrain's majority Shiites have pressed for a greater political voice on the Sunni-ruled island, which is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.
Associated Press Writer Reem Khalifa contributed to this report from Manama, Bahrain.