Formula One 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 might 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 Friday against the race, to be held April 21.

Organizers of the protests said more demonstrations were planned.

The FIA, the governing body of Formula One, and FOM, which runs the commercial side of the sport, have been largely silent on the political protests in the lead-up to the event.

"I don't see any problems going to Bahrain, like it was last year," said Franz Tost, team principal of Toro Rosso. "I'm looking forward to going there. Formula One 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, authorized by the government, included a line of marchers more than a mile 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.