26 March 2022

F1 drivers ‘still concerned’ despite decision for Saudi Arabia GP to go ahead following missile attack close to circuit

26 March 2022

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto has admitted Formula One drivers are not 100 per cent happy about taking part in Sunday’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

The drivers staged a four-hour crisis meeting which lasted until 2.30am local time on Saturday morning, following a missile strike on an oil refinery just 12 miles to the east of the Jeddah Circuit.

Yemen’s Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for the attack on the Aramco facility in Jeddah.

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto said it is the “right choice” to continue with the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix (Hassan Ammar/AP) (AP)

It is understood a number of the 20-strong grid, including Britain’s seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton and two-time world champion Fernando Alonso, wanted to boycott Sunday’s race.

But F1 and its governing body, the FIA, issued a statement on Saturday morning declaring the second round of the new campaign will go ahead following “detailed assurances” from Saudi officials that the “event is secure”.

“I don’t think we said they are 100 per cent happy and fully relaxed,” said Binotto.

“Certainly they are still concerned but they have listened to the assurances we gave them and they understand the importance to stay here, and try to race because that is the best choice we can make. Leaving the country would not have been the right choice.

A cloud of smoke rises from a burning oil depot in Jeddah (Hassan Ammar/AP) (AP)

“There is no doubt that all of us were concerned because it is not a normal situation for something like this to happen so close to the circuit.

“But we have had assurances from F1, the Saudi government, and the security agencies that everything is safe, and that needed to be explained to the drivers.

“It was important for them to meet, discuss and raise their voice. They are the stars of the sport and it is important they are listened to.

“And while negative comments are not great, the fact they met and had the opportunity to argue and listen and to get assurance was an important and a positive one.”

Lewis Hamilton addresses the media ahead of the Saudi Arabian GP (Hassan Ammar/AP) (AP)

The sport is facing accusations of coercing the drivers to race following the missile strike which took place during opening practice on Friday evening.

Black smoke could be seen from the circuit and the blaze continued to rage on Saturday.

A statement from the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association read: “Yesterday was a difficult day for Formula One and a stressful day for us Formula One drivers.

“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.

“Consequently we went into long discussions between ourselves, with our team principals, and with the most senior people who run our sport.

“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 practice and qualify today and race tomorrow.

“We therefore hope that the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix will be remembered as a good race rather than for the incident that took place yesterday.”

F1 is making only its second appearance in Saudi Arabia. The country is thought to pay in the region of £50million-a-year to stage the race – one of the most lucrative in the sport’s history.

A statement released ahead of qualifying on Saturday read: “Formula One and the FIA can confirm that following discussions with all the teams and drivers, the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix will continue as scheduled.

“Following the widely reported incident that took place in Jeddah on Friday, there has been extensive discussion between all stakeholders, the Saudi government authorities and security agencies who have given full and detailed assurances that the event is secure.

“It has been agreed with all stakeholders to maintain a clear and open dialogue throughout the event and for the future.”

The best videos delivered daily

Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox