Motor racing-F1 drivers assured of maximum security by Saudi authorities

FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabian Grand Prix
FILE PHOTO: Formula One F1- Saudi Arabian Grand Prix - Jeddah Corniche Circuit, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia - December 3, 2021 General view of Haas' Nikita Mazepin during practice REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed/File Photo

March 26, 2022

By Abhishek Takle

JEDDAH (Reuters) – Formula One drivers on Saturday said they would race in Sunday’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix after long talks and reassurances from Saudi government ministers that security was being ramped up to the maximum in the wake of attacks on an oil facility near the Jeddah street circuit on Friday.

Drivers met for more than four hours at the Jeddah Corniche circuit at a gathering that stretched into early Saturday morning after Formula One and local organisers had already said the race would go ahead as planned, casting doubt on whether they would actually race.

They did not speak to the media after the meeting but team bosses confirmed the race was on.

“We went into long discussions between ourselves, with our team principals, and with the most senior people who run our sport,” drivers body GPDA said in a statement.

“A large variety of opinions were shared and debated and, having listened not only to the Formula One powers but also to the Saudi government ministers who explained how security measures were being elevated to the maximum, the outcome was a resolution that we would practise and qualify today and race tomorrow.” 

Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis on Friday said they launched attacks on Saudi energy facilities. The Saudi-led coalition fighting them said state-owned oil giant Aramco’s petroleum products distribution station was hit, causing a fire in two tanks but no casualties.

A huge plume of black smoke rose over Jeddah to the east of the track as cars went around the street circuit during Friday’s first practice.

In their GPDA statement, drivers said seeing the smoke had made it difficult to remain fully focused as they tackled the blind, high-speed sweeps and flat-out stretches of the track located on the shores of the Red Sea.

“Perhaps it is hard to comprehend if you have never driven an F1 car on this fast and challenging Jeddah track, but on seeing the smoke from the incident it was difficult to remain a fully focused race driver and erase natural human concerns,” they said.

Drivers will now take part in the final session of practice followed by qualifying on Saturday. Team bosses will also appear at their usual press conference on Saturday.

(Reporting by Abhishek Takle; Editing by Hugh Lawson)