The Saudi Arabian GP is scheduled to go ahead as planned, according to F1 authorities and the FIA. The development comes following concerns after a missile attack by Houthi rebels took place in a locality next to the Jeddah Corniche circuit. Addressing the media after Free Practice, both F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali and FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem assured that the race promoters were ensuring the safety of the drivers, teams, and attendees for the event.
Assuring the sport is safe from the Yemeni rebel group’s attacks, the F1 CEO said:
“We have done a meeting with the drivers and the team principals together with the maximum authority of Saudi, the Prince Abdul Aziz [bin Turki Al-Faisal], Minister of Sport, Prince Khalid [bin Al Faisal], President of Saudi Automobile (SA), and Sheikh Mohammed Ben Sulayem (FIA) President of the FIA, and the Governor of Jeddah, and we have received total assurance that for the country, the safety is first. That no matter (what) is the situation, safety has to be guaranteed. They are here with their families, actually here on track.”
Large smoke was seen during the first practice session near the Jeddah circuit, where an Aramco oil facility was targeted with a drone attack by the Houthi rebels of Yemen. The second free practice session was delayed by 15 minutes as a meeting was held between team principals, organizers and the sporting authorities.
The Saudi authorities were present as the team principals and drivers met with the FIA and F1. From Domenicali’s statement to the media, it is clear that the Saudi Arabian authorities, including the race promoters, have assured the sport that safety is guaranteed for all those attending the race.
Shedding further light on the meeting, Domenicali said:
“So they are being placed with all the assistance to look at this area, to see the places where we are going. So we feel confident and we have to trust the local authority in that respect. And therefore of course, we will, we have with the event, and thank him (FIA President) for the attention.”
Addressing the media in the same conference, FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem said:
“They are targeting the infrastructure not the civilians, of course not the track. We’ve checked the facts and got the assurances from the highest level that this is a secure place. Let’s go on racing.”
There was a further meeting between the authorities and drivers, however, after the drivers’ briefing. It is understood from the events in the paddock that the drivers also had their own discussion and were briefed by Ross Brawn and Stefano Domenicali until late at night.
Red Bull F1 team boss believes the sport needs to put up a united front
The F1 and Saudi Arabian race promoters have been assured of the continuance of the race weekend with safety measures in place, according to Red Bull F1 team CEO Christian Horner. Citing the need to be united as a sport, the Milton Keynes boss believes the sport should not be bullied into any situation.
Walking out of a meeting between the team’s drivers and F1 authorities, Horner spoke to Sky Sports and said:
“Well I think the sport has to stand together collectively, you know any act of terror cannot be condoned And you know, the sport shouldn’t be bullied into a position, you know a situation like that just isn’t accpetable. Stefano and the President [of the FIA], they are dealing with it and all the assurances from the organisers. We will be going racing.”
The developing situation has clouded the atmosphere in the paddock, as drivers have been discussing the matter amongst themselves. It is being reported that the drivers meeting carried on for a minimum of three hours from the end of the second practice session, into the early hours of the morning. From the scenes in the paddock, it is understood that the teams are ready to continue with the weekend. The drivers, however, might not want to race which might indicate more developments to this story in the coming hours.